There are some interesting takeaways from this recent piece in Twin Cities Business Magazine. Unfortunately, one of them is that there is some inaccurate information out there and sometimes it might get played to create deeper divisions and distort what is actually a more nuanced and complex reality.
One of the clearest examples of this is when the article declares that only two Council Members have any business experience (who I later learned from one of the writers of the piece did not include me) and that no one on the council has ever had to make payroll.
Well, I took that a little personally.
For the record, I made a payroll for years, as the proprietor of a small child care and music education business, River's Edge Children's House. From 1997 to 2005 we provided quality in-home child care and preschool and music education and entertainment services for other child care programs and Montessori schools in the metro area. In our busiest period, I had a total payroll of up to 9 people, including myself.
In fact, I have often used my 8-plus years of being an employer and running a small business to better understand policy implications as a Council Member. I remember the commitment and responsibility I felt toward my employees and towards my "customers." It is something I look back on and think about often in City Hall as I work with both businesses and residents to help each fulfill their hopes and dreams.
I looked back on it especially carefully in light of the Working Families Agenda. I remember several conversations about the scheduling issue, and I thought often about the full time, older employees and also the younger, part time and student employees I had.
I also thought about the somewhat complicated staffing needs that required enough people to be there, and also times of lower demand that were sometimes hard to predict. I also looked back on it as I was understanding the challenges that our Earned Sick and Safe Time ordinance might pose to businesses, especially the small ones, as well as the minimum wage issue. I have played over in my head the conversations, written notices, budget and policy implications that these could have had for my little business back then.
I suppose that I may be a bit understated about this modest business experience now on the Council, but it is common knowledge in my community and I have been (and am) both proud and very public about my experience as a small business owner and employer. It's one of the reasons I have always favored more City support for small businesses.
I get that this truth gets in the way of the broader narrative the publication and some of my colleagues are trying to create: that a group of Council Members who don't understand business because they've never run one, and who vilify businesses and are indifferent to their success or failure, are intent on passing policies that will kill business in Minneapolis.
But perhaps that goes to show that the narrative itself is wrong.
Perhaps there's another, better narrative. It goes something like this: there are some on the Council who strongly support creating a local economy that works for everyone. That means creating an environment that grows thriving, healthy small businesses, and it also means addressing the reality that the poorest workers in our city, many of them workers of color, are not doing well.
So some of us can support our small businesses and also support putting better protections for the least powerful people in our society in place. That means a living wage for everyone, the earned sick and safe time that most of us (including not just my colleagues but presumably the people responsible for the Twin Cities Business Magazine) take for granted, dependable schedules, and taking real action to prevent the theft of workers' wages.
Interestingly, the article shows that this narrative - that we can all do better by all doing better together - is what's actually happening in Minneapolis right now. As it says, since this new Council took office: "Minneapolis added more than 13,000 jobs, increasing 4.3 percent to a total of 318,909. Over the period, retail jobs in the city were up 4.7 percent, and accommodation and food services category jobs were up 9.2 percent. While the city does not track restaurant openings, liquor licenses are up 10 percent." And: "The value of construction permits in the city has topped $1 billion for five consecutive years."
And those on the other side of this argument admit that they don't have actual data to back up their position. Again, from the article: "[Sick and Safe Time opponent Cam] Winton does not have metrics to illustrate the impact of similar policies on businesses in other cities. 'I don’t have hard data,' he acknowledges, but adds, 'I think fewer businesses will start in Minneapolis and St. Paul.'"
I disagree. I think that by building a city that works well for everyone, in which every worker is paid a living wage, we will see more success for businesses of all kinds. More people with more money to spend is good for business. And I DO have hard data to back me up, from the Seattle experience with raising the minimum wage.
There's one other glaring error, when the article says: "The council tried to send a $15 minimum wage to voters on the November ballot, but the Minnesota Supreme Court said the ballot was not the appropriate venue." Actually, the Council blocked putting that question on the ballot, on an 11-2 vote. The Supreme Court overruled a lower court that had agreed with me that the Council was wrong to keep this question off of the ballot.
My colleague is quoted as saying one thing I agree with: "People are not listening to each other.” That seems to be true. Perhaps if people listened to each other more, and made sure that we all had the right information about the issues before us, we would make better policy together.