New administration, new Congress face key issues in 2009.
With a new presidential administration and new Congress coming to Washington, D.C., key issues that affect the restaurant industry are expected to gain momentum. During these tough economic times, however, it is no surprise that the economy will be the number one issue facing Congress in January. As discussions continue on another economic stimulus package, the National Restaurant Association will advocate to ensure provisions that help members in this challenging environment are included.
One of the top issues that the association is concerned about is union card-check. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to consider the deceptively named “Employee Free Choice Act” soon after convening in January. More appropriately titled the Employee “Forced” Choice Act, the legislation would remove secret ballots for workers in union organizing elections and bind employers to contracts that inhibit their ability to create much-needed new jobs. The National Restaurant Association is urging restaurateurs to contact their lawmakers immediately to express their opposition. To support its efforts to convince lawmakers to protect workers’ rights to private union votes, the association is working with its partners in the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (www.myprivateballot.com). A full-scale campaign is planned for early 2009 including activating a national grassroots network to contact Senators and House members.
Another issue that may surface at the federal level is an increase in the minimum wage. Although the federal minimum wage is set to rise to $7.25 an hour in July 2009, President-elect Obama has called for a higher rate of $9.50 an hour and an automatic increase each year according to inflation. Congressional leaders have not said whether they plan to address the issue in the new year. Given the recent economic difficulties that many in the industry are facing, the National Restaurant Association is hopeful that Congress and the new administration will give consideration to the cumulative impact such a proposal would have on smaller employers.
President-elect Obama has made it clear that health care is an issue that his administration will consider a priority. Finding ways to provide better access to health care for restaurant employees is essential to the industry’s and our nation’s future. The National Restaurant Association, on behalf of the restaurant industry, will continue to work with Congress on solutions to expand access to quality health care. Health care reform is an area in which the Association will look for opportunities for bipartisan action. In 2008, the association supported the bipartisan Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Act. The bill seeks to make health insurance more affordable for small businesses and the self-employed.
Rising food and energy costs are also a major concern for restaurateurs. The average wholesale food price increase over the past two years is more than 18 percent – the largest increase in nearly 30 years. Generally, food and beverage costs are one of the most critical line items for restaurants, representing an average of 33 cents of each dollar in sales. The National Restaurant Association advocates for changes in governmental policies to help bring down both food and energy costs so that the restaurant industry can continue as a vibrant source of job growth in America.
To ensure the restaurant industry continues to grow and provide career and employment opportunities for hardworking Americans, the critical issue of immigration reform must be tackled in the new Congress and Administration. The federal government must pass comprehensive immigration reform to facilitate a sustainable workforce, while ensuring national security and prosperity. The National Restaurant Association supports strengthening border security; establishing a program to verify a job applicants’ legal status; creating a worker program for instances of U.S. labor shortages; and addressing the undocumented workers already in the United States.
A more favorable tax code to allow businesses to grow and hire more workers is also important to the restaurant industry. Tax reform issues such as reforming depreciation schedules so they more accurately reflect the true life of commercial property, elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax, and continuation of tax extenders are all critical – both in challenging and more prosperous economic times.
The year 2009 may bring major reform to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Two bills are being set up for consideration in the new Congress: The FDA Globalization Act and the FDA Modernization Act. The association is advocating adequate funding for food safety agencies; better communication and education strategies to effectively inform consumers in the event of an outbreak or recall; stronger standards and practices for fresh produce, and additional tools in the form of recall authority, traceability, improved epidemiological investigations and private sector certification. These measures must be both domestic and import-focused.
In 2009, the association plans to continue building support for the Labeling Education and Nutrition (LEAN) Act, a bill that would create a uniform national nutrition disclosure standard for some chain restaurants, allowing consumers access to detailed nutrition information that meets their needs and also allows food service establishments the flexibility to communicate this information in a convenient manner consistent with consumers’ dining preferences. Providing nutrition information on a city-by-city or state-by-state basis creates a patchwork quilt of confusing and contradictory local regulation that will not provide all consumers with all the detailed nutrition information they seek. The LEAN Act was introduced in September 2008 and will be reintroduced early in the new congressional session.
As we enter into a new presidential public policy landscape in 2009, the National Restaurant Association stands ready to advance the legislative priorities of the restaurant industry. The Association will continue to advocate for these and other critically important issues and make certain that lawmakers and regulators know the obstacles and burdens the industry faces and the consequences of proposed laws and policies.
For more information visit www.restaurant.org