Friday, December 23, 2016

A Suggestion for the Better Business Bureau

Christmas is a marvelous time to pause a moment and reflect on possible new perspectives upon culture and the labor market.  It's easy to accept changes as inevitable before we even consider possible approaches towards making things a little better.  On the side of writing and returning to college, I have been working as an Oregon State employee since 1997.  The following suggestion grows out of what I have observed over my past decade at the Oregon Employment Department.  It also grows out of my experiences before 1997 when I was often working three or four jobs just to stay as poor as a church mouse.  Please note that this is entirely an individual citizen's suggestion for the Better Business Bureau's consideration; it's not connected in any way with the state government of Oregon.

In what people such as Wingham Rowan (Director of Beyond Jobs) refer to as the "gig economy," we are seeing rapid changes in the way work is being performed as well as the ways in which workers themselves are hired and selected.  The employment landscape is so tremendously different from it was just ten years ago.  We can't unring the bell.  A significant component of this also touches upon employee vs independent contractor classification.  In many ways, certain sections of our country’s population are being exploited in new and deceptively subtle ways.

The general public has some inkling of of these problems, but not enough to become selective or particularly careful consumers.  This was highlighted for me the other day when a relative explained that she had hired a housekeeper online.  After identifying several warning signs concerning the transaction, I had to confirm her fears: the worker was likely being treated as an independent contractor, sporadically working for just a tiny fraction of the fee she was paying for her house to be cleaned.  She thought she was helping someone, but she may have just been contributing to a larger problem of “under-employment.”

BBB already certifies businesses as ethical and honest in business practices with consumers, but it’s never taken a closer look at the inner workings of the businesses—that I’m aware of anyway.  If BBB might consider an approach like this…it could have pretty significant ramifications.  To begin with, this is a largely untapped market.  Besides helping the consumer, it might begin to help level the playing field for honest employers, as well as educating the public as to the importance of working as an employee—or, at least, proceeding with regards to independent ventures with open eyes as to the financial, tax, and health implications.

Yes, a few BBB members may express concern with this new perspective, but I suggest the new business would more than make up for it.  Furthermore, what's the right thing to do?  These days, it seems many of our employment and banking opportunities (especially aimed at the poor) are geared at...keeping them poor, uninformed, and miserable.

Lastly, the above new certification suggestion for the BBB (or similar non-profit) should not be taken as an attack upon our free market system.  I think we have the best economy in the world, but I also don't believe employees should be exploited.  Small steps like this might yield exciting results.


Karl Bjorn Erickson
Monmouth, Oregon


  1. Karl - This is an excellent suggestion! Let's think about how to carry it forward.

    1. Thanks, Arthur. Count me in. Have a wonderful Christmas.