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Over a quarter century later, unpaid leave law is not enough to support small businesses

I need help with a way to fund longer paid time off. I’d be willing to help fund this through additional employer taxes.

The 26th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act’s implementation passed earlier this month, and it’s now time to move beyond unpaid leave and support Minnesota’s small business employees and owners like me.

Daniel Swenson-Klatt
Daniel Swenson-Klatt

Since the beginning, our business has had family needs built in. My children were in middle school when we bought the shop, and they found themselves in active roles around the café right away. My wife, brother and two sisters were instrumental in getting the shop purchased and opened. My mother, stepfather, in-laws, uncle and grandmother all pitched in as well. Butter Bakery is rooted in family and still feels like our family’s place, even though it’s just me there these days.

So, it’s with some regret and sadness I acknowledge that, as an employer, it’s been much more difficult to be family friendly for staff with new babies. Within the last year, I have had two staff members take three weeks of paternity leave. That’s time I wanted them to take to bond with their new babies. It was the right thing to do, and it will help me retain valuable staff members in our tight labor market. However, it cost me thousands of dollars to do so. And the leave I could offer was haphazard, limited, and not sustainable in the long run. It also meant I couldn’t support other staff during that time. A system that creates winners and losers is not family friendly.

While we smile when children dash in the Butter Bakery door directly to the toy box, or proudly share their “usual” weekly order of mini-pancakes, or measure themselves at the growth chart, or feed our chickens outside, we all feel the discomfort of knowing that we really struggle to care for our own staff’s child care and parenting needs.

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Family friendly is good for business

As an employer, I’m happy to take responsibility for paying a fair, living wage. I’m happy to offer staff a set schedule and flexibility as needed to attend to parenting challenges and child care arrangements. I provide earned paid time off and assist with shift swaps to protect scheduled hours. But even so, this isn’t enough. And an employee shouldn’t have to go work at a large employer in our state like Target, which recently announced it would offer paid leave, to get these basic benefits.

I need help with a way to fund longer paid time off.  I need help to support young families who don’t want to give up jobs they enjoy in order to get benefits they need to survive.

I’d be willing to help fund those needs through additional employer taxes. A small payroll tax is sustainable as a budgeting tool. A small amount over a long period of time works for me. A big expense in an unpredictable time frame — like paying my cook’s salary and overtime costs to cover his work while was out on leave — does not.  Family friendly has always been good business, and nearly two-thirds of small business owners agree, according to a Main Street Alliance Survey.

We came close to passing a paid leave program in Minnesota this year. But it didn’t make it over the finish line, leaving small businesses like mine without support. At the federal level, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act is now moving its way through Congress. I hope lawmakers understand the need of small business owners for this kind of program. I think that it is time we as a society recognize how supporting families, and new fathers and mothers, is truly a great way to support small businesses.

Daniel Swenson-Klatt is the owner of Butter Bakery Cafe in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a member of the Main Street Alliance. 


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