According to the figures, COVID-19 has had a severe economic impact in Texas. Unemployment doubled with the disappearance of some 600,000 jobs, wiping out paychecks and benefits upon which Texas families depended.
Less visible on a spreadsheet is the impact of the recession on the communities we call home. Tens of thousands of local businesses have closed. These are places that not only provide us with goods and services, but also help define our neighborhoods.
The Texas economy is slowly gaining ground, but our recovery is incomplete. The unemployment rate in Texas was higher in February than in January, and costs increased for many products. While there are signs of real progress, it remains a pivotal moment for those of us who operate businesses, as well as for the employees and customers who rely on us.
The Texas legislature has an opportunity to put our economy on stronger ground and accelerate our recovery by passing Senate Bill 14. Written by Senator Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and sponsored by Representative Phil King, R-Weatherford, this legislation would prevent local governments from implementing regulations on private sector employment – such as mandates on paid time off, overtime, or predictive schedules – that exceed or conflict with state and federal law. This necessary bill seeks to remove barriers to growth created by a patchwork of labor and employment regulations on everything from wages to leave policies. Some of these regulations have already been ruled unconstitutional by the courts.
As someone who employs over 500 people at eight restaurants in three cities in Texas, I can attest that conflicting labor and employment regulations in different jurisdictions create confusion and staggering compliance costs. This is especially true for industries like hospitality and construction, where many of our employees work in more than one location.
Plus, employers have used every tool at our disposal over the past year to keep our doors open and our workers on the payroll. I used all the money I received from the Federal Paycheck Protection Program to support employees, even though it didn’t make financial sense for me to do so. The additional employment regulations that local governments impose on the private sector not only interfere with the free market, but they also eat away at the resources we need to keep people working.
We depend on our workers and, like other employers, I believe that labor and employment regulations should protect them. But these regulations should be made at the state and federal government levels in order to provide the consistency and predictability our economy needs.
In addition, these additional regulations are often unnecessary as the market pushes companies to treat their employees well. One of the reasons I’ve been in business for 45 years – and I’ve kept many employees for decades – is that we offer health insurance, retirement savings, interest-free loans, and other benefits that make our employees want to stay. If companies don’t treat their employees well, employers will lose their top talent and struggle to stay afloat.
I might make potato salad for a living, but I’m smart enough to know that my restaurants are only successful because of our great employees.
It is these market principles that have historically made Texas the best state to start and grow a business. With these principles intact, we are on the way home. But we cannot allow tough local regulations to stand in the way of this already lukewarm recovery.
The past year has been quite difficult. We need the elected officials to remove unnecessary barriers that prevent a full recovery. It’s time to get more Texans back to work and start rebuilding the businesses our communities hold dear.
Skeeter Miller is the owner of The County Line, an Austin-based barbecue restaurant. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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