What’s ahead for the restaurant industry as the 116th Congress and the administration get to work in the nation’s capital this month: Gridlock? Challenges? Opportunities?
A mix of all three, says National Restaurant Association Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Steve Danon. With Democrats now holding a 235-199 majority in the House and Republicans having increased their Senate majority to 53-47, restaurants are working to find areas for bipartisan action as members of the new Congress look for common ground.
“We look forward to working with leaders in the House and Senate to create bipartisan solutions that meet the needs of the restaurant and foodservice industry,” Danon says. “We will continue our work with the White House and administration to provide regulatory relief for restaurants so they can continue to thrive.”
The Association’s public affairs team predicts new dynamics this year:
More “messaging” bills
“We’re expecting the new Democratic majority in the House to push an aggressive legislative agenda” to position Democrats for the 2020 elections, says Association Policy VP Shannon Meade. She ticks off $15 minimum-wage bills, paid-leave mandates and pay-equity bills as among the possibilities—but notes these bills have little chance of making it through the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to move legislation forward.
More oversight hearings
As the Trump administration moves full steam ahead to relieve regulatory burdens for businesses, Meade says House Democrats are likely to call more hearings to delay or scrutinize efforts by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Department of Labor (DOL) and other agencies to reduce regulatory overload for employers and others.
More state and local activity
Gridlock in the nation’s capital is likely to create a policy vacuum that state and local lawmakers are willing to fill.
The Association sees action on multiple fronts in D.C. that could help restaurants:
With Americans of every political stripe acknowledging that current immigration laws are broken, the Association continues to push for changes that work for restaurants, including reliable employee-verification systems and visa programs to match willing employees with employers.
Look for the DOL to propose a new federal overtime rule as soon as March, to replace an Obama administration plan that federal courts shelved in 2016. The Association has been weighing in for years through courts, Congress and federal agencies for a fair, clear, common-sense update to rules governing who qualifies for overtime pay.
Labor agencies are working to clarify that employers are liable for labor or wage-and-hour infractions only for employees who are under an employer’s “direct and immediate” control. The Association strongly supports these efforts.
The Association’s Restaurant & Hospitality Association Benefit Trust was one of the first “association health plans” last year when the DOL made it easier for small businesses to band together across state lines to find health plans. Look for the DOL to continue to expand and promote the plans, and for Congress to begin tackling smaller changes to the Affordable Care Act.
Apprenticeship is an area of strong bipartisan support as government officials partner with business leaders to build a highly-skilled workforce. The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s 2-year-old apprenticeship program is a great example of an “earn while you learn” program that’s working to turn more than 1,000 restaurant and hospitality employees into successful managers and executives. President Trump has repeatedly praised the value of such structured on-the-job training.
Restaurants are among many groups pushing for a robust bill to improve the nation’s roads and transportation.
Telling the industry’s story
More than 600 restaurant operators will visit D.C. March 27-28 for the National Restaurant Association’s 33rd annual Public Affairs Conference. With more than 100 new members of Congress, this is a high-impact way to introduce lawmakers to the restaurant industry. Learn more at Restaurant.org/PAConference.