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Kris Johnson | Democracy in action

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It was an impressive display of grassroots organizing. Arranged solely through a quick online effort, the state Senate Labor and Commerce Committee hearing was jam-packed with hair stylists, salon owners and cosmetologists on Jan. 28.

Thousands of people signed in to testify and a line of professionals stretched from the Senate hearing room outside to the domed building on the Capitol campus nearly a football field away.

Those small-business owners and independent contractors converged on Olympia on short notice from every part of the state to testify against bills that would severely restrict who can and cannot be classified as an “independent contractor” in Washington state.

It was a powerful sight and an inspiring illustration of democracy in action.

That bill, and others like it introduced this session, would severely hamper those entrepreneurs’ ability to continue to operate as their own boss.

For many in the predominately female industry, the choice to rent a booth at a salon and run their small business from it is a matter of freedom and flexibility.

Hair stylists and small-business owners Heather Kerekffy and Jenny Treutle traveled from Moses Lake to testify alongside the Association of Washington Business in opposition to Senate bills 5326 and 5513.

Kerekffy told the committee that after working as a salon employee for several years, she found she needed more income and a more flexible schedule as a mother of three children. That moved her to be self-employed. Her career choice is about independence, she said.

Treutle said the flexibility of owning her own business gives her the ability to achieve her dreams and goals on her terms, key points that were repeated by hard-working small-business owners during the two-hour public hearing.

The show of force prompted lawmakers to back away from one bill that specifically targeted hair dressers. But, the Legislature’s effort to regulate independent contractors is far from over.

Several other bills being considered will hamper the ability of independent contractors to thrive in Washington state: House bills 1515 and 1601 and Senate Bill 5690. These bills received public hearings Feb. 25.

The practical effect of all the measures is they would upend the freedom and flexibility of sole-proprietors and independent contractors across a wide range of industries that not only includes hair styling and cosmetology, but also truck drivers, app-based drivers, tradespeople, court reporters, barbers and many others.

These are risk-takers and the backbone of the economy in every community, large and small. Rather than placing new restrictions on them, we should be looking for ways to help them grow.

Passing such laws would mean higher taxes and business costs for employers, less flexibility for independent contractors, fewer options for people who want to work for themselves and possibly fewer jobs overall since many employers could not afford to hire contractors as new employees.

It isn’t often you see small-business owners in large numbers in Olympia to share their personal stories with lawmakers. They’re busy running their businesses, paying their taxes and balancing work and family.

Yes, AWB works with member businesses to be their voice on measures before the Legislature that impact the employer community, but there is power in a heart-felt, compelling story shared with lawmakers by those directly affected by legislation.

Our hats are off to the many who rallied to protect their industries, respectfully and passionately.

It was a great reminder that every voice matters. And, as the reverberations of that hearing in January show, when an industry coalesces around a common goal, its voice echoes through Olympia long after the marble hallways have cleared.

 

Kris Johnson is the president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and designated manufacturing association.