OPINION: Small businesses aren’t immune from the ills of capitalism

While shopping at small businesses may make us feel like we’re doing something good, they aren’t always better than corporations. Small businesses typically offer their workers worse benefits and — in my experience as well as my friends’ — can have just as toxic of work environments as any other big corporation. 


Small business owners are often put up on a pedestal for things like choosing ethically sourced ingredients or using recyclable materials, but they still exploit the labor of their employees for profit. They’re lauded as this pinnacle of the American Dream by Democrats and Republicans alike. Democrats portray them as an alternative to corporations, while Republicans use them to excuse not raising the minimum wage to a livable wage.


Employees of small businesses also aren’t subject to the same federal protections as those of corporations. Anti-discrimination clauses in the U.S. labor code only apply to businesses with 15 or more employees (20 or more in the case of age discrimination). To be eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the business needs to have 50 or more employees. 


Any sort of benefits a small business offers, if they even do, are often worse than those from corporations. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, only 25 percent of small business employees rated their benefits as excellent or very good, compared to 58 percent of employees at large businesses.


The work environment of small businesses can be just as toxic as those of corporations. In my experience, the owners micromanage a lot. One person I worked for a few years ago would watch the store cameras at home and would call the store and complain to the manager if he saw an employee doing something he didn’t like. Working for a small business can be more difficult in some ways, especially considering you have to go to work every day and pretend you like the owner underpaying you, which you wouldn't have to do if you worked for a faceless CEO. 


If you look at any news outlet, you can find countless stories about the struggles small businesses are facing due to the pandemic, but those stories mainly focus on the owners. Their employees are also going in and out of work due to changing restrictions. My partner and friends who work for local businesses are worried about how unstable their employment situation is.


At the same time, you have businesses, especially in the Metro East, who are defying COVID-19 regulations by keeping dining rooms open, not supplying their employees with proper Personal Protective Equipment or not enforcing social distancing or mask usage. This puts both its employees and the community at risk. It shows that small businesses, like corporations, will still prioritize profit over human lives, albeit on a smaller scale.


Generally, businesses factor a wage for the owner into their operating costs and anything left over after the cost of rent, utilities, payroll, insurance, etc. is considered profit. Profit goes directly into the owners’ pockets and their employees don’t see a cent of it. Until small businesses share their profits equally with their employees, they will be unethical and exploitative not unlike big corporations.


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