Guest Blogger

Is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tone Deaf to the Greater Business Community?

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 23, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: business, business owner, finance industry, LGBT, lgbt chamber of commerce, small business, us chamber of commerce

Editors' note: Eileen Kessler, a board member of the Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and an NGLCC-certified business, is founder and president of OmniStudio, Inc., a Washington, DC-based communications and design firm.

EKessler_photo.jpgIn Washington, there is a battle being waged between the White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over which best represents the interests of corporate America--the U.S. Chamber or business leaders themselves.

Recently, as the U.S. Chamber lost some members over its antipathy to climate change legislation, Valerie Jarrett, President Obama's senior adviser and a key business liaison, expressed the administration's frustration. "Does [the U.S. Chamber] still represent the community's interests?" she asked.

Throughout my 30 years in business, I've questioned the U.S. Chamber's positions. I realized long ago that it does not represent my views or interests.

From its opposition to family leave legislation, a public option in the pending health reform bill and minimum wage increases, to its silence on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, many of the U.S. Chamber's positions take an exceptionally narrow view of government and its role in our society.

I found there is little room in the U.S. Chamber for business owners like myself--people who understand the cost of federal regulations and mandates, but who also see the profound role government plays in a democratic society.

I am not a Pollyanna about the costs the federal government imposes on business. I pay taxes, and I have had to wrestle with red tape and rules. But I also believe that the federal government plays a strong role in ensuring the stability of our economy, equality in the workplace, the vitality of the environment, and access to health care for all.

So, where did I find like-minded business owners with more progressive views of business's relationship with government? I found them joining together in conversation and activism in the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).

The NGLCC and its network of local chamber affiliates is an essential meeting ground for business owners and entrepreneurs who believe that the protections established and imposed by government are often essential to ensure progress in society.

The NGLCC actively lobbies Congress and the administration on issues like health care, hate crimes, employment equality and energy efficiency. Its members are equally vocal in working with their local chambers to have their voices heard in state and local governments.

While the NGLCC may not have the financial muscle of the U.S. Chamber in Congress, it finally has a seat at the table as it participates in meetings with the President's top advisors on health care, energy and environmental issues.

The rift within the U.S. Chamber has proven there is no guarantee that businesses will move in lockstep behind one organization. LGBT business owners, especially, need to take a closer look at the organizations they join. Does a group like the U.S. Chamber represent your values and ideals?

As every single vote counts in the U.S., this battle proves that every single entrepreneur's and business owner's voice counts as well. We cannot cede this ground to the U.S. Chamber and its limited vision of what is best for the business community.

Only by participating actively and with purpose in business organizations reflecting our views can we ensure that every voice is heard and respected.


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An organization made of businesses will never have the good of the employees or customers at heart. It will have the good of the businesses held highest. Always.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 24, 2009 10:12 AM

Having had 3,500 active customers who were small business owners I applaud the development of NGLCC. I will bet your door decal will not be as prominent, but the representation of successful Gay owned businesses is important. Some of my very best customers were Gay owned stores. Standout retailers like JT Muesing and Theobalds right in Indianapolis.

Other of my best customers were members of Rotary which stresses "Service Above Self" and sponsors worthy causes for children. There is a Rotary branch here in Pattaya Thailand sponsoring a childrens school. Not all business owners are self centered Bil. Not all businesses look for ways to screw people, but in fact wish to learn from other business peoples mistakes. That is the nature of networking.

Some other best customers were members of The Chamber, but it was largely for local acceptance in their community. Business owners do not have to think about the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber does not really want local businesses to think about it. Just pay the dues.

Thank you Eileen for this view from the inside. A 30 year survivor as a self employed business person is a considerable accomplishment and an under appreciated one. You and businesses like yours provide most employment in America. Two thumbs up!

John Rutledge | October 24, 2009 1:36 AM

I did not know there was a NGLCC. Thanks for the info. I am a small business owner and I know many others from various walks of life. None of us belong to the Chamber of Commerce. There is little benefit to belonging. You are right. It represents very few.

EileenKessler | October 24, 2009 11:59 AM

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Bill, I would have to disagree with you regarding your comment:

"An organization made of businesses will never have the good of the employees or customers at heart."

Many people go into business because they have skills, passions, ideas that they want to pursue and develop into products and services. For most entrepreneurs, it is the independence and challenge of succeeding that draws us in, often much more than the potential of becoming wealthy. Most small businesses are "lifestyle" businesses, which allow owners to follow their dreams while living their lives--offering more freedom and flexibility.

The small business people I know, especially my LGBT friends in the local and national NGLCC, care about their communities and the well being of their employees.

Like other groups of interest, business owners look for people like themselves, who they can turn to for new ideas, support, leadership building, and friendship. Together as a group, we are stronger and can bring positive change to our communities. In addition to providing employement for people, businesses also contribute to good causes, volunteer for charities, donate products and advocate for change. The point is that we need to scrutinize the groups we join to make sure they do represent our basic ideals.--Eileen Kessler

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 24, 2009 9:36 PM

Networking with similar businesses is interpreted by some as "salary fixing" to screw the worker or "price fixing" to screw the public. Of course they do not know anything about contemporary business, lack the skills, dreams, guts or imagination to go out on their own and create wealth for themselves and others.

You know the pressures of rental overhead and the monthly unemployment compensation paid to your State in addition to monthly payments to the Social Security Administration for your employees over and above their contribution. Now, this is all before you determine, as I did, to provide no cost health coverage for employees to keep quality people.

Even though it was a group policy I had one employee who asked if she could have the money instead. I then got to explain "group policy" to her. It was based upon an average of all our ages and health conditions and paid for 100% by the business as a group.

Even so, it is extremely difficult in most businesses to keep quality employees and I would keep a constant thumb on what others were doing to minimize employee turnover.

Now, if you are very lucky, you will not be decried as an "elite" for choosing to have friends in business or following your own dream. :) Thanks again Eileen!

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 25, 2009 3:53 AM

I meant to add, hopefully they pass your muster, The National Association of the Self Employed. I belonged to NASE for 25 years joining primarily for the health coverage options plus travel and other discounts useful to a small business owner including estate planning. They could have cared less that I and my partner were fully partners in their dealings with us which is just the way I like it. No special treatment, no discrimination either, just equal. Their site is nase.org/ and they deliberately do not mention sexuality in any form of advocacy I could find. They do mention what they can do, and are doing, to advocate for small and micro businesses.