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National Restaurant Association - Overtime tops Public Affairs Conference agenda

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Overtime tops Public Affairs Conference agenda

Against the backdrop of cherry blossom trees and congressional halls of power, members of the National Restaurant Association converged on Washington, D.C., to attend the 2016 Public Affairs Conference and meet with lawmakers on issues affecting their businesses.

Nearly 600 members attended this year’s event, which focused primarily on the Department of Labor’s proposed changes to the overtime rule, efforts by the National Labor Relations Board to redefine the joint-employer standard, tax reform, and overregulation in general.

The conference, held April 12-13, included a keynote speech by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a seminar on how advocacy is changing in a digital world, and a discussion of key legislative issues featuring Sen. Cory Gardner (Colo.), House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), House Means & Ways Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (Texas), and Rep. Bradley Byrne (Ala.). The session was led by Cicely Simpson, the NRA’s executive vice president of government affairs and policy.

The conference ended with members trekking to Capitol Hill to engage in discussion with legislators about the rules and regulations wreaking havoc on small business owners.

“Overtime is one of our big issues,” said Jeff Lobdell, owner of Restaurant Partners Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich., and an NRA board member. “It was great we got to connect with our lawmakers and get our message to them. Some already knew about our concerns, understood them and agreed with us. Others were enlightened and, possibly, now understand our position a little better. At least they got to hear our side of the story.”

Proposed changes to the overtime rule would greatly increase the salary level that dictates which employees must be paid overtime. Today, overtime pay is required for anyone earning below $23,660 a year. Under the DOL’s proposal, the threshold would rise to $50,440.

Lobdell operates 15 restaurants and employs about 700 people, and says the changes are likely to require some tough choices.

He said some of his salaried employees may have to shift to hourly managers.” I think that would be very disappointing to them and to me. There’s got to be a better solution than bringing the [salary] base up by 110 percent. It’s just not practical.”

Dan Young, CEO of Young’s Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs, Ohio, told his congressmen he is worried about what federal agencies will propose next.

“It’s discouraging,” he said. “I thanked them for supporting small business issues, but I’m afraid to find out what else will cause additional expense and time. In the long run, it’s going to stop or slow me from making progress in improving my business.”

Anne Rollings, who oversees community relations and government affairs at Gecko’s Hospitality Group in Sarasota, Fla., said she felt her time in Washington was well spent. Her group met with lawmakers to enlist their help on the issue of tax reform.

“We asked them to provide simplification, certainty, and to focus on less, not more,” she said. “We implored them to remember we’re not just facing taxes on the federal level, but from the state, too. That’s a whole other issue we have to deal with.”

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