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Restaurants, Big Business Issue Call to Action

The restaurant industry and other business groups are ramping up their lobbying against an effort by House Democrats that could compel small companies to provide health care coverage for part-time employees.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, is considering pushing for a provision that would make it harder for employers to classify workers as part time to escape a mandate for subsidizing health care coverage.

But the National Restaurant Association argues that the Miller provision along with a recommendation by the House Progressive Caucus that would narrow exemptions for small businesses would overburden restaurants.

The association is urging its members to contact lawmakers as they consider the final version of health care reform legislation.

“This is a critical time for restaurateurs’ voices to be heard. We have a few critical days before a revised package comes together and making contact with lawmakers can influence the outcome,” Scott DeFife, the restaurant association’s vice president for policy and government affairs, said in a recent “call to action” sent to members. DeFife said the restaurant association members should lobby for the part-time-worker exemption already included in the Senate health care bill.

In addition, 19 business groups — including the Retail Industry Leaders Association, American Benefits Council, the National Ski Areas Association and Taco Bell Franchisee Association — sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urging her not to include mandating insurance coverage for part-time workers in the health care reform bill.

“Including part-time workers in any health care mandate will overburden employers by adding costly administrative obligations in difficult times,” the groups wrote in the letter.

In the Senate bill, workers are considered full-time employees if they work 29 hours a week or more. But some Democrats are worried that some employers will start reducing their workers’ hours to just under that number to avoid the mandates.

“Chairman Miller wants to ensure that employers do not have an incentive to cut workers hours in order to escape responsibility,” said Aaron Albright, a spokesman for Miller.

The restaurant association said in a written response: “There are certain industries that have always relied on part-time workers and always will. Restaurants are an example and our workers appreciate the flexible schedules the industry offers.”

In the action alert, the restaurant association provided some talking points to its members including noting that restaurants operate on thin profit margins and that many employees work for multiple employers to build a flexible work schedule or receive coverage under another plan.

Lawmakers are now considering a procedure in which the House would approve the Senate health care reform bill and a reconciliation measure that would include any changes to the Senate legislation.

In the House version, employers are charged on a prorated basis for part-time workers for health coverage. However, a Democratic aide said Miller is not considering inserting the House provision into the final legislation.

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