Memorial Day Meditation"Opinion"
This Memorial Day weekend, if we were to sit around a BBQ grill and keg session with our area small business contractors and small businessmen, we could learn a lot. Recently I sat in on such a bull session at a camp fire get together and I talked politics with these people and they left me with a lot to think about.
To start with they are wary of both Political Parties whom they see as not understanding of their business issues or else so far invested in their own version of business truth as to deny meeting their business needs.
The first bit of news that comes out is that tax cuts are a load of crap to these men.
They don’t need them, they don’t want them, they don’t benefit much from them. Yes, large companies with huge cash flows benefit from these tax policies; it’s all very well for IBM, AT&T, and Microsoft, but the small contractor doesn’t benefit very much at all. They face much bigger problems than what Republican tax cuts will cure.
The small contractor can’t afford a CPA or a professional accountant and often Quick Books and the wife is the accounting, personnel, and strategic planning departments all rolled into one; yet she works at another day job. These businesses can only benefit from what they understand and apply. They know they can write off their truck, tools, and a portion of their home as a home office and expense their materials. Beyond that they don’t grasp the subtleties of Washington or the IRS at all except to know that that if they cheat and get caught then they are out of business. They themselves need training but have no time to devote to it.
Another huge waste of time and money, in their opinion, is the Chamber of Commerce.
The cost of belonging versus the amount of benefit derived is small and there is a lot of time investment required, yet to them time is money. The political agenda of the Chamber largely benefits the well developed business and there is little for the beginner or the growing firm to gain from membership. That isn’t what the Chamber tells you but that is what the small business people have come to realize.
When you ask them what is hurting them they do not focus on the housing crisis as their number one problem. Most have figured that people wanting to sell a property must fix it up first and that requires a skilled contractor.
No; what is killing them is their Labor Force.
The scope of laborers available to them is smaller than you think. Once they weed out those incapable of holding down a job the remainder are usually unskilled at the tasks they will be asked to perform and they need vocational training. There is no money to train them but there is a need for skilled laborers. The result is bad quality workmanship and that bad quality is bankrupting their businesses.
Consider the plight of one person I met who runs a roofing business: he often has to fix three or four times a roof that was put on by his labor force. Each return visit thus robs the profit from the job. These jobs are by law under warrantee and the redo eats his lunch. Usually they have to take the best among the laborers hired to act as supervisors but these people have zero skills at managing a work team. The result is they demoralize the work force, anger the workers, allow on the job politics to be used to bully or intimidate workers and generally lower productivity to a point where it is often costing the contractor money to have their employees working for him rather than for his competition.
When he tries to develop his business, then the contractor needs parallel crews working and he relies on these untrained supervisors to run the crews and get the job done. Meantime, he is out prospecting for work to keep the crews busy. A lawsuit from a disgruntled customer easily ruins his year. He has no budget for a professional salesman.
He knows he can obtain trained and skilled workers from local unions. His business is so cost competitive that he can’t afford them. The result is that he is running a crummy business operation; he knows it and yet he is powerless to fix it.
Then there is the individual worker who comes in with a hang-over, can’t be allowed to drive the company trucks because of four or five DUI convictions; his insurance company won’t cover them, they bring an attitude with them and they steal everything that isn’t nailed down when they aren’t fighting with co-workers. Are all workers like that? No, it’s thought to be an 80/20 ratio of good to bad workers but the bad workers hurt the business a lot.
He then asks “what can Democrats do for me?”
It isn’t easy to answer his questions for nobody, including Congress, has any realistic answers. We know that part of the answer is worker education, part of the answer is behavioral reform, part is individual morality development, and all of this was offered to the younger person, rejected by them in practice, and is now holding them, the contractor, and the nation, back from development. The cool dude in high school is now a liability on the job. By the time he has reached middle age he is looking to collect workers comp and disability insurance.
It is scant comfort to know that Europe and Asia face the same problems.
The small business guy has more in common with the manufacturer than you might think. Our Labor Force is increasing in terms of the number of dysfunctional workers in the worker pool. Businesses are reluctant to take these workers on for the consequence to their business is too big to ignore. Given an applicant for a job it takes something to find the hidden gold buried within the labor pool. When Romney waxes eloquent on his plans for helping businesses if elected they snicker for they know he is full of nonsense.
Democrats want the businessman to endow all of these workers and their progeny with health care that the business often can’t afford; yet sometimes they can afford worker health care but it is rejected because it hurts profits. You then ask how they would they fix this and they say: “Make people responsible for buying their own healthcare and don’t saddle businesses with it.” We are advocating for employers to do the paying for healthcare because that is what Ted Kennedy demanded of us when he was in the Senate. You ask them: Do we need a national health policy and plan and they all say “YES!”
To the businessman the debate is academic anyhow for the two Parties are so busy kicking each others butt that they talk right past what the businessman needs.
The more the keg is drained the more that the plight of American businessmen is unveiled and the more that we see how much the political parties need to start to redefine the dialog and work together in order to get this segment of our society repaired.
That is exactly what we Democrats are called upon to do if we retain the right to dominate government. If we get elected in 2012 and then take control of Congress and the White House, this becomes part of our new agenda. We dare not kick the can down the road on these matters.
In coming weeks we will be holding the Conventions needed to develop the Planks that go into our Platform for the election. Will we have planks that address these matters?
What might we consider?
- Worker Quality Certification programs with workers having to qualify by proving he is not a problem and has the needed skill set. Already the IT industry has embraced this and maybe its time for other segments to embrace it too.
- Quality Control training for workers and businesses is becoming a necessity.
- A Tax credit for product recalls and job redo’s when the failure is the workers is perhaps a consideration once the worker quality problem is addressed.
- Sponsorship of new education modules for high school and college students leading to worker quality certifications. Some of these could be Internet training modules.
- Some method for workers who have disqualified themselves from the work force to reenter it with remediation performed.
- The Internet needs to be used to help these men with services such as an IRS service to prepare taxes for them, taking advantage of tax benefits, and using GSA to send them business opportunities for government contracts both large and small.
If we don’t like these suggestions then it is time for our Party to brainstorm solutions and there is time for it at our next round of Party Caucus meetings. Be there, participate, bring solutions, because these planks are badly needed in our political policy kit. I know we have Democrats that can contribute much to this discussion. I know we are facing increasing political irrelevancy if we don’t step up and form a web of solutions.
Twenty-first Century governing is quite demanding of us.