Over the past year, one of the heartbreaking side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the loss of so many local small businesses. In spite of our community rallying together to shop local, buy local, and eat local, the toll was too much to handle for many families in our community that had to make the tough call to shut their doors.
This past year has shown that when small businesses suffer, our whole community suffers with them.
Tens of thousands of community members here in Pasadena are employed by small businesses. These hardworking Pasadenans make up the backbone of our economy and community. Zoom out and you will see that California has more than a million more small businesses than any other state.
My own family is living proof that small business is a tremendous source of economic mobility. They grew a small construction company here in Pasadena to create good jobs and new opportunities for themselves and their workers. In the wake of this pandemic, we need to be focused on providing every avenue possible for people to find employment and economic success.
Unfortunately, the business climate in California makes it difficult to start and operate self-sustaining small businesses.
Right now, many small businesses are facing the threat of lawsuits that could force them to delay reopening, let employees go or suffer permanent bankruptcy. An unbalanced legal system in our state has left the door open to difficult-to-win litigation brought by attorneys looking to score paydays from businesses who cannot afford to put up a fight.
The Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) is one example. Under the law, small businesses can be targeted for something as minor as a typo on a paystub.
This is happening in our own neighborhood. A simple search on the Department of Industrial Relations website shows that close to 300 Pasadena business owners have been targeted by PAGA lawsuit threats.
This continued burden of lawsuit abuse only exacerbates income inequality. Large corporations have armies of lawyers that are able to fight back against lawsuits with ease. That’s why trial attorneys target small businesses owners that live in and contribute to our community. They know that mom and pop don’t have the resources to fight back like a megacorporation does. So the trial attorneys cash out and win quick settlements at the expense of the people in our community who built their small business from the ground up.
Sacramento legislators have the means to fix this. Targeted tort reform measures, such as COVID-19 liability protections for good-faith operators and reform of PAGA, would go a long way in allowing small businesses to stay open, create opportunity, pay workers better wages and participate in the economic rejuvenation all Californians should be excited about.
I urge our state representatives to adopt pro-small business, pro-worker, anti-lawsuit abuse measures.
Tyron Hampton represents District 1 on the Pasadena City Council. Tyron comes from a family of entrepreneurs.