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National Restaurant Association - Full-time push moves to the Senate

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Full-time push moves to the Senate

The fight to change the health care law’s definition of “full time” has moved to the Senate, where the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, or HELP, made the impact of the law’s 30-hour definition the topic of a hearing Thursday.

While the hearing focused on the impact of the 30-hour definition and not specific legislation, a vote to change the Affordable Care Act’s definition of full time to 40 hours could be coming soon. A bipartisan bill to make the same change, the Forty Hours is Full Time Act, has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Lisa   Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).  Thirty other senators have also signed on as cosponsors. Sixty votes are needed to bring the bill before the full Senate for a vote.

The House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation to change the full-time definition to 40 hours earlier this month. Starting this year, the law requires businesses with 100 or more full-time-equivalent employees—generally defined as those who average at least 30 hours per week—to offer health care benefits to those employees and their dependents or face penalties in 2015. The requirement will expand next year to include businesses with 50 to 99 full-time-equivalent employees.

The National Restaurant Association has been a leading advocate for changing the full-time definition, as restaurateurs are concerned that a 30-hour definition will lead to more rigid scheduling practices in the industry at the expense of the flexibility that attracts millions of employees to work in restaurants.

HELP Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said many of the employees affected by the law will come from service sectors, like restaurants, hospitality and retail.        

“Many businesses can’t afford [the health care law’s] mandate and must reduce their number of full-time employees. The result of all this is that thousands of workers are getting a pay cut,” Alexander said. “Their work schedules are being reduced to 29 hours a week and below. This is not enough money for these workers to earn a living.”

Restaurants were a prominent voice in the hearing, with the NRA submitting testimony for the record and Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, testifying on how the 30-hour full-time definition is affecting scheduling at CKE.

“Currently, employers have been free to decide whether to offer health care insurance for those working less than 40 hours, and many of them do,” Angelo Amador, NRA senior vice president and regulatory counsel, wrote in his testimony. “Nevertheless, these decisions have been based on the economic reality of each business, and for many employers, it is not feasible to bear either the cost of health care coverage or the new penalties for doing so.”

The NRA is also a leader and co-founder of the More Time for Full Time initiative, which on Thursday sent a letter signed by more than 400 organizations to the full Senate signed by more than 400 organizations, urging senators to cosponsor the Forty Hours is Full Time Act. The NRA also submitted a letter as part of the Employers for Flexibility in Health Care (E-FLEX) Coalition in support of the change.

Puzder testified that the ACA’s 30-hour full-time definition was already creating challenges for employees.

“Our restaurant managers often tell me how difficult the Affordable Care Act’s 30-hour threshold makes it for them to give crew members the hours they need just to get by,” Puzder said. He noted that CKE has long offered ACA-compliant health care plans to employees at and above the general manager level and offers coverage to more than 5,000 more employees who work more than 30 hours a week. Of those, he said, only 420 enrolled.  

“The tradeoff for this low enrollment rate has been a reduction in the hours of thousands of our employees, and I believe hundreds of thousands, if not millions of American workers,” he said. “I respectfully submit that the tradeoff isn’t worth it.”

The NRA is asking restaurant operators to contact their senators and urge them to support the Forty Hours is Full Time Act.

Tell your senator to support the Forty Hours is Full Time Act.

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