Oregon has consistently not been the most business friendly state. And in light of the current bills being set forth before our legislature today seems to be no different, even more business unfriendly I would dare say. Friday I showed a photo of me testifying in front of House Business and Labor Committee and Senate Workforce Committee about a bill that would mandate employers of all sizes to provide paid sick leave for all employees who are full time.
While at face value this doesn’t look like that bad of a bill, from my perspective not just as an employer but also as a seasonal employer this actually in the end becomes a larger problem for me. Let me start off by saying that our farm already provides paid sick leave to our full time workers. We do this as a part of a benefits package. One that helps us retain employees longer, it is done on our own terms and is something that fits well within our business plan. Actually while I was listening to testimony of many employers who were against this bill I heard the same sentiments over and over again. They provided paid sick leave to their employees, or they gave them the choice of paid sick leave or a bonus, time and time again they said that their own employees didn’t want paid sick leave, they would rather take the bonus. The theme was clear, every business was different and every business did what worked well for them and for their employees.
Their definition of full time work was also a large issue because it was set at only 30 hours a week. I’m not sure when full time became only 30 hours a week, but this would cause big issues for agriculture. We have many seasonal workers, workers that would from day one start to accrue hours of sick leave. Keeping track of all of the regulations this bill entails and requirements would be a large headache to say the least for me. As I said in my testimony, “I personally am the payroll person, HR person, manager, tractor driver, combine driver, you get the jest; I don’t have to time or the resources to be adding to my work load by keeping track of all employees as they come on and off this farm continuously throughout the year.”
I think what a lot of this comes down to is the fact that this legislative session we are not only looking at a huge increase in minimum wage, an increase that is large enough it won’t help start up job growth. I think it will hinder businesses from continuing to hire. As Tina Kotek herself even said when discussing this issue during Oregon Farm Bureau legislative day that Oregon doesn’t have enough middle level jobs and that continues to cause an issue. Well it looks to me like they are falsely creating “middle level” income jobs by raising the minimum wage. Minimum wage was meant to be just that, a minimum, not a living wage.
A few other examples of non business friendly legislation this session include flexible work schedule, and leave for parents to go to kids activities. I truly believe however that working from the bottom up, making businesses more successful will create a continual industry that provides benefits that work with their business, their employees, and their overall success. We have to be more business friendly, we have to work with employers because in the end the more you hit us, the less we can give out. If this mandate comes down to me as an employer to provide 56 hours of sick paid leave to all employees on my farm. I can honestly say that not only will that decrease my ability to make a benefits package that works with my business, but it will also mandate me right out of providing the benefits that I do already for my employees. It will be possible to mandate us all right out of business, and when that happens I can tell you that even a $15 minimum wage will not make anyone any money if there is no one to hire them.
I know that we do have a lot of good people working for us in the Capitol everyday. I just hope that we can look for some type of compromise that won’t hurt all businesses, especially agriculture in this state. Oregon agriculture provides jobs for 1 in every 8 employees, while we may not have a big voice considering we only make up 3% of the population, we have to have a loud voice on these issues. Because in the end we will feel the implications of bad legislation the fastest and the hardest. As John F. Kennedy once said, “The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.” We have no one to pass on the cost, we are at the end of the line.