I cannot take this anymore. Month after month and year after year, I am saying everything I have said before. Yet, the more we say, the less elected officials hear. Despite our plea to stop the bad policies and added costs, our elected officials have found bliss in ignorance. Businesses are about to break and each terribly conceived policy that is enacted into law pushes employers one step closer to the edge.
Businesses need relief. Businesses, so many of them, feel like they are drowning, and they need real resources to be able to breathe. The little help that has made its way to businesses is really not enough. How many of you have seen your favorite local restaurant, bar, or retail store permanently shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic?
In Los Angeles, the City Council approved a Hazard Pay policy, forcing grocery stores to pay workers an additional $5 an hour. This is despite grocery stores having already given their employees bonuses, despite grocery stores spending millions of dollars to institute policies that keep both workers and customers safe, and despite a report by city staff saying the policy would be costly and lead to an increased cost of groceries, loss of jobs and store closures. The council flat out chose to ignore the facts and numbers.
In November, thousands of workers lost their jobs and hundreds of businesses were pushed over the edge when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors chose to shut down restaurants that invested in outdoor dining, claiming it was an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. If that were true, it would be completely understandable. However, there was zero evidence, zero numbers, and zero facts to support this decision. The result was a hit to our economy and a hit to several business owners and the workers those business owners employ.
At the state, legislators continue pushing policies they say will protect workers. Well, who is protecting businesses? Businesses keep taking hit after hit that many of them have already been beaten down to close permanently. There is a proposal to force the hospitality industry to rehire workers who were let go as a result of the pandemic, but they need to be rehired by seniority. So, the business owner, who is responsible for staffing and their operations, would be unable to bring back workers they need the most and the workers who they know they can count on. The worst part is an employer would need to wait five business days to hear back from a recalled employee before recalling another employee. At a time when businesses are trying to reopen their doors as soon as possible and at a time when staffing needs will begin to go up, business owners will be crippled once again with these types of policies. Targeting the hospitality industry, which has been hit the hardest during the pandemic is oblivious to the economic crisis we’re in and the road to recovery we have ahead of us.
When we try to discuss the impacts of these policies with lawmakers, we get ignored. Somehow, we are the bad guys because we’re foreshadowing what will happen to the cost of living, number of available jobs and number of additional businesses that will either shut down forever or move to a different state with more reasonable regulations.
The fact is Los Angeles and California are too expensive for anyone to live or run a business in. We all love the City of Angels and we all love the Golden State, but it seems we have all been blinded by this love. Something needs to change, and the business community is always willing to be a partner in solving the issues that affect us all.
When lawmakers ask us for input, we provide them with our honest perspective and provide feedback that is meaningful. We provide them with facts and numbers to support why a policy may be a good idea or to identify ways in which a policy could be enhanced. We may not always see eye to eye, but collaboration on policy and different perspective help shape good policy.
If we continue down this path we’re on, I worry about the next generation. How much will they need to pay to rent an apartment? How difficult will it be for an entrepreneur to start a business? Will that entrepreneur get discouraged when they see how expensive it is to run a business?
As we look towards recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, I think it’s time we start over and take a look at the decisions we’re making. So, let’s start from the beginning: Hi, I’m Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association.
Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a business advocacy organization based in Van Nuys that represents employers in the San Fernando Valley at the local, state and federal levels of government.