By Kevin Bogardus - 09/17/13 10:00 AM EDT
Franchise restaurant owners have come to Washington seeking a change to ObamaCare that they say could prevent them from having to cut their employees’ hours.
The healthcare law requires large employers to provide insurance to employees who work at least 30 hours per week.
“Employees won’t have the hours they need, and they won’t get employer-sponsored healthcare, either,” said Steve Caldeira, president and CEO of the International Franchise Association (IFA).
“[Franchisees] are dealing with high commodity costs, high energy prices, higher taxes from the ‘fiscal-cliff’ deal, and now they are trying to work through ObamaCare,” he said.
More than 300 members of the franchise association are making the rounds on Capitol Hill to lobby for the ObamaCare changes. Monday’s visitors included IFA members from Mr. Rooter, McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts.
Their top priority is a trio of bills that would increase the law’s definition of full-time employee to 40 hours per week. Members of the IFA have been instructed to ask lawmakers whether they will co-sponsor legislation “to give employers and employees relief from burdensome employer regulations?”
Bills supported by the IFA include the Save American Workers Act, sponsored by Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.), and the Forty Hours is Full Time Act, offered in the House by Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) and in the Senate by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).
The franchise trade group has also launched a website, 40hoursisfulltime.com, to encourage visitors to lobby their lawmakers on the full-time threshold.
Beginning in 2015, employers with 50 workers or more will pay penalties if they don’t provide insurance coverage to workers who put in at least 30 hours per week. The mandate had been set to take effect next year but was delayed by the Obama administration this summer to give employers more time to prepare.
Worries about the mandate extend broadly across the business world.
Trade groups say the 30-hour standard could cause havoc in several industries that depend on part-time workers, including retail and hospitality.
“This is about taking part-time workers who were at 32 hours, 34 hours per week and limiting their work,” said Scott DeFife, executive vice president for policy and government affairs at the National Restaurant Association.
“You still have to cover the shifts,” DeFife said, which means more workers and training. “There’s an additional cost for each worker you bring on.”
DeFife said the restaurant trade group has been lobbying on the 30-hour issue for more than two years. The group is also part of the Employers for Flexibility in Health Care Coalition, or E-Flex.
The Retail Leaders Industry Association (RILA) is leading that coalition and echoing the calls for an ObamaCare overhaul.
“You could have someone come as in an hourly worker. They can work 25 hours one week or 40 hours another week,” said Christine Pollack, RILA’s vice president of government affairs. “It’s requiring stores to fundamentally look at who is working and how much.”
Other business groups are involved in the lobbying as well. The Chamber of Commerce has sent letters to Capitol Hill in support of legislation to boost the threshold to 40 work hours per week.
“We speak about this issue whenever we speak about health reform and the challenges ahead,” said Katie Mahoney, the Chamber’s executive director of health policy.
What is not winning business backing is the movement to defund ObamaCare. Several K Streeters told The Hill that ObamaCare is the law of the land and that they are working to change it, not end it.
“We didn’t support the bill, but the bill became law. So our job now is to mitigate the most costly, burdensome and onerous aspects of the law for our members,” said Caldeira with the IFA.
“Some members of Congress have talked about defunding ObamaCare. I’m not going to get drawn into that political debate. It’s the law. My job now is to help my members and get a fix.”
Lobbyists for the trade groups are taking a bipartisan approach to changing the healthcare reform law.
“We want to let Democrats know that we don’t want to repeal ObamaCare. We want to let Republicans know that this is the law, and we need to make it workable for business,” said Kevin Maher, senior vice president of governmental affairs for the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
Lobbyists said the delay of the employer mandate has bought time for business to rally support for legislation, and they plan to make the most of it.
“This 30-hour issue is beginning to resonate on both sides of the aisle. Since it has been pushed off now for more than a year, it could mature before the end of this year, and we could increase pressure on the issue,” said Neil Trautwein, vice president for the National Retail Federation.