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Restaurateurs’ guide to the State of the Union address

President Obama sounded an overall theme last night of fostering opportunity for the middle class. But included in his speech were a number of references to priorities that could affect the fortunes of restaurants. Here’s a quick rundown.

Health care

The President vowed to veto any bill that would roll back the past year’s expansion of coverage to uninsured Americans.

Paid sick leave

Several minutes—an eternity by State of the Union standards—were devoted to the issue. The President re-emphasized his support of the employee benefit, though he couched it as a necessity to help sick children, not ailing workers who nonetheless drag themselves to work because they can’t forego a day’s pay.  Without it, parents face “the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home,” he said.

Obama said he’d foster paid-sick-leave benefits by “taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own,” without revealing what those actions might be. He also called on Congress to pass a bill that would extend at least seven days of paid leave to “every worker in America,” without differentiating between full and part-time employees.

Overtime pay for wage-exempt managers

Amid all the debate last year about raising the minimum wage, the President’s call in 2014 for changing the rules on managers’ overtime pay was somehow lost. Last night he suggested the matter isn’t out of his mind. “We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they’ve earned,” he said. The President has stated that he believes the exemption to wage and hour laws for salaried low-level managers no longer fits workplace realities. He agrees with the plaintiffs in a goodly number of suits filed against restaurants that the manager routinely performs the same duties as hourlies, and hence should be entitled to the same overtime pay they earn.

A minimum-wage increase

Obama challenged the senators and congressmen who oppose an increase in 2015 to try supporting their families on less than $15,000 a year, or what workers paid the federal minimum currently earn. He also declared that the time is long past to pay men and women equally.

Unionization

“We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice,” the President said without elaborating on the particulars of any legislation the White House might press on Congress.

Data security

Obama called on Congress to “finally” pass legislation that would protect the digital privacy and information of consumers, “especially our kids…This should be a bipartisan effort.”

Immigration

“Passions still fly” on the issue, the President said, but “it’s possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.” He suggested there’s enough sympathy for reform within both political parties to take action this year. He also said he’d veto any legislation that seeks to turn back the clock on immigration reform.

What he didn’t mention

Stepping up bio-fuel production, a concern to the restaurant industry because the effort diverts corn into ethanol plants, leaving higher food costs as an aftereffect. Instead, the President championed wind and solar power, along with more fruitful domestic oil and gas production, as the ways to lessen America’s reliance on foreign fuel.

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