Op-Ed By Steve Palmer: Fix Obamacare for Small Business
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Posted by: Kevin Brophy
Fix Obamacare for Small Business
By Steve Palmer
June 12, 2014
Many say that Washington is gridlocked and broken, but last month the House of Representatives acted in a cooperative and effective manner on an important jobs issue. In a unique moment, Republicans and Democrats, including our own Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), came together to take the first step of an important fix to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and save the jobs of many employees, particularly those in the restaurant industry.
As passed and signed into law, the ACA changes the definition of a full-time employee from someone who works the traditional 40-hour work week to anyone who works 30 hours a week. This redefinition would be crippling to my family restaurant business, which has served customers in the La Grange area for over three decades. Many of my employees work part-time and enjoy the flexible schedules that restaurants can offer. Students can balance work with a busy course load. Single parents can take shifts that accommodate their childcare. Very few other industries can boast of such flexibility.
Lowering the threshold for “full-time employment” has put my restaurant on the cusp of being classified as a large business, the result of which comes with a very steep price tag. As a “large business” I am forced to either pay for health insurance for many 30+-hour employees that I never had to cover before, or I will have to pay a substantial new fine. After weeks of numbers-crunching I have found that complying with ACA under a 40-hour full-time employee threshold is possible, but 30-hours per week would involve a major reworking of my business model or even rethinking of staying in the business altogether.
Restaurants operate on very slim margins, and as a service-intensive industry our labor costs always rank the highest. The 30-hour full-time rule will force costs so high that my only option would be to make cuts where I least want to. In many cases, employees will lose hours and the flexibility that they greatly need. Worse, some jobs may need to be eliminated altogether. This same sad story is being repeated at thousands of offices and kitchen tables across America as family-owned businesses make the same calculations and struggle to plan for the future. A prominent union leader proclaimed that the changing definition of full-time under ACA will “shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour workweek that is the backbone of the American middle class.” Even the Obama administration has acknowledged the burden and pain the ACA is placing on businesses and delayed some implementation of the ACA.
Fortunately, the U.S. House of Representatives listened to our concerns and understood that something needed to be done. I met personally with Rep. Lipinski to share our plight. He took up our cause and championed legislation to help the millions of restaurant businesses and save the jobs of their employees.
By a strong majority vote, Democrats and Republicans passed HR 2575 — the Save American Workers Act of 2014 — to raise the Affordable Care Act’s 30-hour per week “full-time employee” definition back to practical workforce standards of 40 hours per week.
If the Senate follows suit and the president signs the bill into law, flexibility will be restored and jobs will flourish. The Congressional Budget Office has noted that the shift from a 30-hour to a standard 40-hour week in the ACA could lead to some people seeing an increase in their take-home-pay.
As a 30-year restaurant owner, I am committed to my employees and I am invested in my community. I want to provide flexibility and the best benefits that I can offer to my employees so I can continue to offer great service for my customers.
I thank Dan Lipinski and his forward-thinking colleagues for working together to save jobs. Let’s hope that the U.S. Senate will recognize common sense and follow their lead.
Steve Palmer is the owner of Palmer Place Restaurant & Biergarten in La Grange, Illinois.Click here
for the original online publication of this op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times.