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National Restaurant Association - NRA chair Hickey addresses health care, immigration

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NRA chair Hickey addresses health care, immigration

As chairman of the National Restaurant Association, veteran restaurateur and businessman Phil Hickey has taken a front-and-center seat for some of the most important issues affecting the restaurant industry. Recently, the newly appointed chairman of the 65-unit, Jupiter, Fla.-based Miller’s Ale House chain discussed some of the issues he is most passionate and concerned about.

What is the most important function the NRA provides?
Without a doubt, No. 1 is advocacy. That’s the very essence of why the NRA was created 95 years ago – to combine collective efforts of restaurant operators to pursue common purpose, and in this case it’s policy advocacy with legislators and regulators. The primary purpose of the NRA is to promote political advocacy on the national, state and local levels. The core premise of this effort is to educate lawmakers that restaurant operators will do the right thing if they are allowed to.
This effort segues into the arena of effective communication. Oftentimes, because operators are so busy trying to drive success inside the four walls of their restaurants, they don’t have the time to educate legislators and regulators on what it’s like to operate a restaurant business -- hence the need for the NRA to step in as necessary and lead where needed.

What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about the restaurant industry?
One prime misconception about the restaurant industry relates to job growth. On one hand, we’re congratulated for being one of the industries that continues to grow jobs, but on the other hand, many people we hire are part time or seasonal, so we’re criticized for that. The fact is the restaurant industry employs 13 million people, many of whom work part time, often by their own choice. A key point to understand is that for millions of restaurant employees, a job in our industry is an entry point or re-entry point into the world of structured employment. We welcome people into a new work environment and train them so they will be ready for future business opportunities.. We remain one of the few industries to provide endless opportunities for those persons just beginning their employment. We teach accountability, teamwork, business skills, sales skills, cooking skills, and we do that willingly. Ours is an amazing industry that rewards teamwork, ambition, perseverance, and excellence.

What would you say are the most important issues the industry currently faces?
The need for immigration reform weighs heavy on my mind. We have a circumstance where Americans need immigration reform for many reasons. There are millions of people in the shadows who are working or want to work. Certainly, we’d need a strong verification program so there are no questions about the people we’re hiring.
      I thought the Senate did a heroic job this summer in passing a very sensible proposal. We are hoping that when the House of Representatives returns from its recess it will get something done because communities across the United States are affected by our existing, unworkable policy.
      Of course, the Affordable Care Act also is a front-burner issue during my tenure as chairman. Many operators around the country – small, medium and large   say understanding the health care law is the biggest issue they’re concerned about.
That said, I think we’re making good headway. The NRA has been heavily involved with regulatory agencies and in frequent meetings with the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department. All of our efforts are geared toward ensuring that regulators are going to make implementation work effectively and realistically. Foremost on my mind is getting the definition of full-time employees changed, moving it to 40 hours a week from 30. Further, we’re very pleased the White House made 2014 a transition year for the employer mandate. I thought that was very sensible on the part of the White House given that operators do not yet have the guidance in place to understand the complete compliance picture.

What would be the best-case scenario regarding implementation of the health care law?
Hopefully when Congress comes back it will work with some urgency to raise the full-time threshold to 40 hours a week from 30 hours. If not, we run the risk that we’ll structurally change our labor market – and that the flexibility so many value in our industry may begin to disappear.

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