Three years ago, I bought a mom-and-pop print shop. When I opened the doors to welcome my customers, I also welcomed my employees’ new union.
That was a good business decision. Working with the union — not against it — has delivered results in my relationship with my employees, who show their mutual appreciation in the quality of their work. Working with the union has also saved me money on health care for both my employees and myself. And it’s been great for marketing. Customers like supporting a business that supports the community in return.
That’s why the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which is expected to decimate public sector unions, isn’t just a blow to employees. It’s also a blow to small businesses like mine.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m an entrepreneur, and I believe in making a good profit. But when I studied for my MBA, business ethics was part of my education, and I’m proud to put that learning into practice.
Some people say that if you put up all the capital for a business, you should reap every last benefit from the business. (I don’t see it that way. I don’t want to drive my employees into the ground to maximize my profits.) I do want to maximize my wealth, but in an ethical manner. And having a balance in power in business is ethical and a great check for all business owners and managers.
The fact is that both workers and small businesses are being squeezed under the growing economic and political dominance of giant corporations. Unions are an important part of our system of checks and balances on that power.
Our country celebrates small businesses like mine. Politicians extol entrepreneurs for our risk-taking and our independence. But, as much as they say they listen to small business, the rules they’ve adopted encourage big corporations to abuse unchecked market power. That’s not good for my bottom line, for the local economy I depend on, or the wellbeing of my community.
These giants can use unchecked market power to push down wages, compel employees to work when they’re sick, or prevent workers from taking time off to care for ailing loved ones. They can also take advantage of immigrant workers who are blocked from getting green cards, hurting immigrants and sinking job quality for all workers.
This race to the bottom has a terrible ripple effect. More low-wage, insecure jobs mean fewer dollars circulating in Main Street economies. Less money on Main Street means fewer small businesses that are growing and can generate high-quality jobs. That’s not good for my business — or for any of us.
As corporate power has grown, and monopolistic tendencies threaten markets, the small business sector is taking a real hit. Corporate giants use predatory pricing to drive out smaller competitors. They use their size to force discounts from smaller suppliers. These and other anti-competitive practices are part of why we’re proportionally losing both small businesses and small business jobs.
Unions are an important tool for leveling the playing field. Unions helped create a middle class in our country, creating a set of working people with sufficient income and resources to sustain a thriving small business sector.
Unionization has been especially important for making our country more equal in terms of race and gender. Unionized public sector jobs, in particular, opened opportunity for African Americans, and for women of all races.
As the child of an Air Force family, I can attest to the importance of public employment.
More than half (58 percent) of those hurt by the Janus decision are women. One-third are African American, Latin, Asian American, or Pacific Islander. These employees are our teachers, our firefighters and our social workers.
They are also my customers. If they lose out on wages and benefits from this decision —and they most certainly will — my business and other Main Street small businesses will take a hit, too. The Janus decision serves only the giant corporations that funded this lawsuit.
I’m going to approach this decision the same way I approach my relationship with my employees. I’m going to work with people of all walks of life in my community to support unions and new rules to create a Main Street economy that sustains all of us.
Frank Brown is the owner of Minuteman Press in Minneapolis and a member of Main Street Alliance – Minnesota.
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