Building our community instead of dividing it

There’s a movement afoot.
The recent rise in activism for workers’ rights was born partly of frustration over the economic inequality sweeping the nation.
Capitalism is a tremendous driver of innovation and growth. But left unchecked, it can harm the many for the gain of the few. Many of America’s biggest corporations are examples of this. We all know that Walmart and Amazon employ millions of people but also cause harm to workers and local businesses alike. These business goliaths don’t build communities—like local businesses do—they build only profit. Employees are often seen as a disposable workforce rather than a valued team.
Local businesses are a crucial part of our community. Entrepreneurs with the vision and drive to create small local businesses exemplify the hopes and dreams of everyone who wants to control their economic destiny. Their employees are part of their team, some consider them family. Local business owners care for their team in every way they can. We’re stewards of culture and commerce.
Austin politics today are divided—workers vs. business, or more directly, workers are good and business is bad. This is unnecessarily divisive and destructive. Our community faces challenges in dealing with employer-employee issues such as paid sick leave, livable wages, and predictive scheduling. We have a great opportunity to come together to address these issues and find solutions. We are a smart, creative city. We can find solutions to even the most difficult problems—if we work collectively and respectfully.
The recent destructive battles over paid sick leave left Austin at the mercy of lawsuits and the Texas Legislature—never a desirable outcome. AIBA refused to take part in any legal action against the ordinance. If the courts or the Legislature overrides local control, Austin loses. AIBA was never opposed to paid sick leave, per se. AIBA objected to portions of the ordinance and the rush to enact it without due process. We sought to contribute ideas that might work for everyone, such as establishing a risk pool for very small businesses. We asked that the ordinance be given time for review. Instead it was rammed through in 17 days from initial draft to passage. We asked that implementation be delayed until January instead of the October 1st because businesses hadn’t budgeted for it this year. We proposed an exemption for the smallest of local businesses. We proposed providing incentives rather than regulations punitive to local business. In a political climate that only provides for black and white—business is bad, workers are good—our reasonable concerns fell on deaf ears.
No one wants to go to work sick and no employer wants sick people at work. But the issue was framed, not as a compromise achieved by discussing the best ideas, but as “for the workers” or “against the workers.” In the process, local business was demonized as the enemy of the worker. Local businesses can’t survive without employees and with Austin’s low unemployment rate it’s increasingly difficult to even find enough people to allow businesses to flourish. And employees need the jobs that local business provides. It is a symbiotic relationship. The idea that employees are being systematically exploited by all businesses is not only wrong but counterproductive. To succeed, the employer-employee relationship must ensure mutual benefits.
It seems likely that if the courts don’t override this ordinance the Texas Legislature will. If that happens, nobody wins. We haven’t helped one person. We’ve divided our community for absolutely nothing. It’s time to look for a better way.
Cooperation will achieve the best results
A few months ago, AIBA formed a Better Process Committee with a few of our members who are interested in working on these issues. We began by researching other cities and other states to find better alternatives to achieve our shared community goals. What we found led us to create a proposal for a better process to address employer-employee issues.
First, we propose a local study of each issue to identify the full scope of the problems. This will lead to better, more targeted, solutions that won’t give lawmakers cause to deprive us of home rule.
The second step is to convene a Workplace Task Force of organizations representing all segments of business and employee organizations. This task force would be charged with reviewing a problem and finding solutions to recommend to the City Council.
The third step is to take the time to do an impact study of any proposed policies. The speed of enacting the paid sick leave ordinance created an ordinance fraught with unintended consequences.
Good government governs in the best interest of all the people, not just one group. Local policy should not provide benefits for one segment by punishing another. By working collectively, other communities have found ways to address their issues that worked for everyone. AIBA is proposing that Austin do the same.