During this spring at the bakery I’ve been slowly making my way back into my role at the front counter after my recovery from shoulder surgery last winter. As owner, I was able to work with my staff to give me time away, flexibility in the roles I covered and to keep a continued presence at the shop. While costly in many ways, my injury and recovery didn’t cost me my job or my business, and for that I’m grateful.
Our bakery manager also went through a recovery process from surgery this winter. I feel fortunate that the shop was able to allow her the time away to heal, and that during that time I could provide a basic level of compensation through some paid time off. It allowed her to come back to work when she was ready and not to have the added stress of financial worries built into trying to return before she was ready. And although it was costly, having a capable stand-in for her bakery manager position during this time assured that the time-away incident didn’t have an impact on the operation of the shop.
And yes, throughout the winter and into the spring, other members of my staff (or their children) bumped into illnesses that kept them from being able to be at work, most of them just a day or two, to allow rest and medication to do their part for healing. These illnesses often do create a strain on the working ability of the shop – as I scramble to fill missing positions, we go with fewer staff at work than we’d like, or I ask staff to take on a bit more to help each other out. It’s a delicate balance of supporting each other in ways that don’t put burdens on each other as well. There is some cost to my willingness to offer earned paid sick time, but it meant we didn’t have sick staff working with food or customers because these staff didn’t feel pressured to “make their rent” by showing up sick and pretending not to be.
I know that many workers in Minneapolis don’t have these kinds of protection and carry lots of fear about being sick and what that might mean to the job they hold. I have heard negative comments from business owners who feel that workers will abuse time off policies. I have heard leaders of business organizations threaten that allowing workers earned paid sick time will close businesses or force them to leave the community. I have sadly listened to business-owners bad mouth the very city staff and officials who’ve provided them business grants and supports and have been their advocates as they have built and grown their businesses.
One of the results of this time away from the front counter has been to have time to be more active politically. This spring I took on a public position regarding paid earned sick and safe time because I recognize that a strong, vibrant community requires a well-cared-for workforce. When we are willing to invest in our community’s workforce, we create a local economy that returns that investment to its local businesses. This is especially true in the neighborhoods of south Minneapolis, where residents and businesses co-exist in a rich tapestry. I don’t need to leave my neighborhood to get the essentials I need. I can return my income to my community to help it reinvest in the community I live in. Our strength is in the local engine of small businesses whose owners live in this community, hire a workforce from this community, and who reinvest in the activities of this community.
There is a cost to caring for workers. There is also cost to not caring for our workforce. It adds up to lost wages, and that means less buying power returned to the community. It also is reflected in lost production, the challenge of affording childcare, of losing housing and the resulting transience that puts huge strains on our educational system, and overall loss of a vibrant community. That cost is being paid by someone, somewhere. If it not paid through the collective efforts of employers and their consumers through fairly priced trade, then it is through the workers themselves and we as taxpayers who need to fund additional services to support people with limited financial resources.
The health and strength of my business is a direct reflection of our community’s vibrancy. I know that that my venture is a neighborhood investment. I want to live by my shop’s goal of being a responsible neighbor in this community, so I have to be a part of that investment as well. It has led me to provide earned sick and safe time. And it asks me where does that lead me next? My next hope is to create a way to help my staff better afford health care so that I don’t need to ask taxpayers to help me provide this. I look forward to walking and talking with you through this challenge as we travel this green path together.