Category Archives: employer responsibilities

This Maintains Unemployment Benefits?

Application form for Unemployment benefits

In this economy, a familiar form

Maintaining unemployment benefits is as easy as dialing a phone number, it would seem.  I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve answered the phone at my business, only to hear the person on the other end methodically ask me if we’re hiring.  Regardless of what I say, an overwhelming majority of those calls ends quickly as they hang up.  Now bear in mind, the caller has no idea if I am a hiring authority.  If they call in May and the answer happens to be yes, I can count on one hand how many have maintained the call long enough for me to give details.  It wasn’t long before such calls really began to annoy me.

The frequency picked up as the recession worsened.  Of course, as employment levels suffer, unemployment benefit claims rise.  It then occurred to me that those calls were not sincere attempts to gain employment at my establishment, but rather they were required activity in order to maintain their state unemployment benefits.  Calling me, asking that question, then hanging up constituted a job search, which is the key requirement to receiving the weekly check from the state.

Like every business, I pay taxes to the state.  Part of that sum is put aside by the state of Oregon into an employment account.  My contribution is specified and when someone becomes involuntarily unemployed and they file for benefits, my account is charged if my business was one of the last three to employ them.  That is to say, should I terminate someone who then goes on to get another job somewhere else and they then get laid off there, when they file for unemployment my account is charged.  Due to extensions granted by the state, this can go on for a very long time as long as that person is “looking for work.”  A five second call to me, or to any business that answers the phone, satisfies this requirement.

Although I firmly believe that safety nets of some kind need to exist, I resent that the state behemoth can be so lax in knowing or understanding how so many can manipulate them into free money at no cost, other than to businesses.  Being that I typically employ a younger person, it makes sense to me that a 23 year old just out of a job would be tempted to receive a weekly pay check from the state in return for nothing more than a brief phone call.  Especially when that can go on indefinitely.  Why work when a check just shows up in the mail every week?

Clearly, such a scenario only burdens the private sector even more and certainly does nothing to help that individual in the long run.  A sense of entitlement with no effort sets in, and that can have long term, damaging results to our state and country.  Although I’m unsure how to fix this specifically, I’d start by perhaps requiring that job search efforts be more substantial and that anyone receiving unemployment benefits needs to be required to work for the state in some capacity.  That seems fair and is a good way to at least decrease the burden on the private sector.

I’m amazed at the clarity I gained from taking so many five second calls


Portland-where beggars are choosers.

Being that I own a bar and restaurant, food and drink are always all around me.  Being that my establishment is in Northwest Portland, homeless people are also all around me.  Though it’s never enough, I have made a pointed effort to offer a meal to those that cross my path who look like they need it.  Sometimes with surprising results.

A few years ago, I was coming back to work in the late evening.  I parked my car in our neighbor’s parking lot as I often do after hours.  There is a large dumpster in this parking lot and I noticed a young man of 20 something standing in it, foraging around.  As I walked past, I stopped and asked him if he had lost something.  He stopped, stood up, and curtly said, “I’m looking for something to eat.”  I nodded and proceeded inside.

But the walk in was long enough to regret my insensitivity.  I went directly into the kitchen and ordered my staff to make me a cheeseburger and fries to go.  I thought that would be a nice gesture towards the guy.  He obviously needed a meal.  Now somewhat excited at the opportunity to give the guy a break, I headed back outside to the dumpster.  He was still there, digging around.  I said, “Hey man, I didn’t mean to piss you off earlier.  I own that establishment right there and I just ordered you some food.  I’ll be back with a cheeseburger for you as soon as it’s done.”

He looked at me with somewhat of a smirk.  Then, in one of the more condescending tones I had heard in a while, said, “I can’t eat that.  I’m a vegan.”

At first I thought he was kidding.  It was obvious he wasn’t as he stood there in the dumpster looking down on me.  I’m usually not at a loss for words, especially when I perceive wrong, but I simply turned around and went back inside, dumbfounded.

I tell this story somewhat frequently because I feel it’s one of the best representations of the attitude of Portland.  Even our would-be beggars feel entitled and aren’t likely to stray from their own “enlightened” principals, which of course are modernly liberal in nature.  The possibility of starvation isn’t even enough to make a vegan take a free cheeseburger from a stranger trying to lend a hand.  Portland is indeed a weird town, and I don’t think it represents the United States very well at all.  And if it ever should, then God help us.

You Were Abused, too??

Abuse, much to my surprise, seems to be everywhere.  At one point a few years ago I was employer to 5 people, a third of my staff, who confided to me that an immediate family member had sexually or physically abused them when they were young.  I was suddenly a confidant in a position of authority, and as I heard each of these confessions privately, unexpectedly, one at a time, I felt dumbfounded.  Then, sadness, with a sense of undefined responsibility.  I also gave repeated thanks for my own good fortune.

What was I supposed to do with this information?  I’m good at lending an ear, and giving a hug, but then what?  Those things won’t erase the scars these people are carrying.  They won’t unfetter them of the burden of shame and allow them to soar off into the future.  I think the worst part of gaining the confidence of these poor victims who I’d grown to like so much, was also the best part as it related to me, personally.  That is that the concept of being victimized by a family member is totally and completely alien to me.  I simply couldn’t relate and therefore couldn’t offer any sound advice.  I felt helpless then, and I feel helpless now, as I know that there are more unlucky souls like them all around me.

The broken or dysfunctional family is in my estimation one of the gravest threats to our fine country.  How can future generations be given the foundation they need when so many of their parents didn’t receive such a thing?  It is much easier to let down your own children when you yourself were let down by the people charged with giving you unconditional, safe, love.

As I contemplate this topic, I don’t feel as if I’ll ever know how to handle such a thing.  Which is frustrating, because it’s so easy to spot bad propagating bad.  It’s all around me every day, frankly.  I feel sad to think of what these people who confided this horror to me might be like, what they might be accomplishing, if it weren’t for the ugly, evil acts of their brothers, fathers, or step fathers.  We will never know.

All I do know is that the only course of action I feel as though I can take to address this terrible phenomenon is to thank God every day that I was born into such a miracle of a family and wish that others might be as fortunate as I am.  Maybe doing so will lead to a snowball effect of some kind.  Others who share my blessing should join in.

For more information on adults abused as children please click here.

Compassionate Conservatism: Of Course.

American conservatism is by nature more compassionate than it’s political counterpart, despite propaganda to the contrary.  Businesses, big and small, and neighbors of every community can better identify the needs of those around them and match them up with private resources to apply relief, with great satisfaction, with snowball effect, and without the aid of the government monstrosity.

In this current age of American politics,” social justice” is high on the priority list of our national government.  Many of those

currently in the highest positions of power believe that government should be used to provide to the less affluent or less fortunate as a way to “level the playing field” or, to right perceived wrongs that lead to the existence of the less fortunate in the first place.  It is “justice” they want.

As a conservative American, I reject this thinking.  But one doesn’t have to be a conservative to know that a government as vast as ours is wrought with bureaucracy, inefficiency, waste, and at least the possibility of corruption.  It’s also easy to note a government’s lack of a truly human quality.

I am a small business owner who cares deeply for his employees and many of the customers I’ve gotten to know over the years.  These relationships have become personal, and not business, in nature.  So that being said, is it not possible that businesses, big and small, and surrounding neighbors, can identify the needs of those around them and match them up with unused or inexpensive resources to apply the relief that the government monstrosity is attempting to do, only cheaper and with more sincerity, and less political agenda?  I believe the answer is an emphatic yes, and that we can call this thinking compassionate conservatism.

Examples of this happening are endless.  But three come to mind.  One employee of ours, who was on the schedule to close the bar four nights a week, had no transportation of her own.  Buses are next to impossible to find at 3am and cab fare is a good way to blow a significant chunk of a day’s pay.  Safety concerns, and Oregon weather, made walking home a bad idea.  However, by simple discussion of the matter, we as her employer found someone who had an old Honda scooter just sitting in their garage, taking up space.  Hadn’t been used in years.  With a little simple negotiation and an advance of her pay to cover a tune up, this valued employee became mobile and free from the quagmire of paying $30 in cab fare on a night she made maybe $90 in tips.  Problem solved.

Yet another employee got married and was going to have a baby.  (It should be noted that this traditional route to parenthood is indeed a rarity in this particular universe.  Therefore, positive reinforcement was certainly on our minds.)  As the baby’s due date approached, it became known that since neither half of this young couple had any family on the west coast, hand-me-down baby clothes were not an option.  Disposable income, especially in the hospitality industry circa 2008, to spend on such things was hard to come by.  Again, by talking and learning it wasn’t long before we found another young couple who had recently had a baby girl of their own, and they had too much family in the area.  No one else was waiting for their child’s hand-me-downs.  An introduction was made, a soon to be new born got a wardrobe, and the problem was solved.

Ours is a highly residential, urban area.  One of our regulars, whom all the staff loved despite his ornery nature, was an old man of 80 something who was rapidly losing his mobility, and as a result his entire social regiment.  He needed an electric wheelchair and had been waiting for one from the government agency he applied to forever.  Waiting was something he couldn’t really do.  Being that he lived solely on Social Security, a lump sum expenditure to buy it himself wasn’t an option, either.  However, should he find a used chair at a decent price, he could make payments each month.  He just needed someone to front him a few hundred dollars.  This is an amount that our establishment could afford to loan to a long time patron who would be missed if he weren’t around.  So it came to be.  A chair was found, and on the 5th of every month I could expect Dean to hand me his $30 payment, sitting in his chair.

In each of these instances, there was no government involvement.  The public’s money wasn’t spent.  There were no inflated prices due to endless middlemen.  We needed no authorizations.  There was no waiting list.  No applications.  Rather, there was only friendship, recognition, a little effort, and significantly less money, all of which was paid back to it’s originator.  There was also a lot of humanity.

There are many businesses doing many things in this country.  There are many neighbors who see many things in this country.  There are lots of things in many garages.  When pooled together and not stolen by tax obligation, there can me significant money in this country.  Imagine if this kind of thinking were applied to more social ills, all over.  Hmmmm.

Write It Down

Writing, in whatever capacity, is spawned by many things.  With me it was personal discourse.  You know when you catch yourself in mid-dialogue in your own head, and realize that the back and forth has actually made perfect sense?  (Janet Conner clearly did, before she wrote Writing Down Your Soul.)   If so, you probably also know that such a moment is often fleeting.  One’s own personal truth is sometimes a real slippery thing to try and capture.  Especially the kind that is sparked by complex or confused issues.  I live and work in the underworld, which is to say that I own and operate a bar, (used to be two, but I dummied up) so issues and instances that provide confusion are as abundant as Oregon rain.  There have been many, many times in these moments of clarity when I’ve asked myself, “should I be writing this down?”.  The very existence of this blog means the answer turned out to be yes.

By any measure, I’m a very lucky man.  I was born in a great country, to a loving, traditional family who taught me well.  I’m able bodied, educated, was never abused, and have no significant emotional issues.  I appreciate my good health, because I learned first hand about poor health.  And all of these things, along with many others, make me an extreme minority in this underworld.  The majority is made up of staff and many, many patrons who simply aren’t as lucky as I.  There are broken homes, abuse, drug use, unfamiliarity with common decency.  There’s ignorance and misplaced anger.  Bars tend to attract those that need answers.  Sadly, they’re likely to find numbness and more questions.

Along with my business partner, I am the boss.  I am also the face of the establishment.  In the almost 13 years I’ve been there, my story has become known.  This tenure, and my fair dealings, have reinforced my leadership qualifications and allowed me to gain the trust of many.  I also keep my eyes open, always, because this existence is about as far from boring as any.

So I’m involved.  In the business, of course, but also in much of the personal chaotic goings on of employees and customers.  Some of this involvement is of my choosing.  Some certainly is not.  But either way, I am charged with providing advice, direction, support, discipline, and a kind of shelter to those who are experiencing a myriad of personal dramas that I was only able to dodge by blind luck.

I can’t avoid this.  I wouldn’t if I could.  It comes with the territory.   But the toll it takes is real.  It’s exhausting.  And it brings forth many questions of my own.  Often, that question is “how is this possible?” or  “what should I do this time?”.  As I talk to myself in search of the answers to these questions I know will never come, I decided I better write some of that discussion down.

What follows in this space will be this discussion, and more.