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ICYMI: How Congress Can Help Your Favorite Local Restaurants

How Congress can help your favorite local restaurants

By Chris Duggan

San Diego is transforming into more than America’s Finest City. It’s becoming a culinary hot spot. Previously known for its fish tacos and oceanside cuisine, creative chefs from across the United States and even Mexico are filling the city with everything from exotic flavors to good old American barbecue. Foodies from all over are packing into our local eateries to check out the hype.

Unfortunately for our booming food industry, a decision out of Washington, D.C., is threatening the livelihood of the country’s restaurant and hospitality industry. The National Labor Relations Board in 2015 redefined what it means to be a joint employer, or when two companies share supervision of an employee.

It’s no longer clear whether outsourcing the laundry makes a bed-and-breakfast owner liable for workplace safety at the neighboring dry cleaner or if contracting out some renovations puts an authentic Mexican restaurant owner on the hook for construction workers’ unpaid overtime.

The wide-ranging uncertainty that is infecting entrepreneurs could have widespread economic impact, too. Despite chefs and restaurant owners flocking to San Diego from all over, our fine city is experiencing a flat unemployment rate and a year-over-year decline in hiring.

How can that be so? No doubt, much can be attributed to an unstable employer environment.

Business owners are now using their limited resources to buy extra liability insurance and invest in legal counsel to protect the businesses they built. This is money that could be used to expand and hire more employees. The consequences of the joint employer ambiguities on the hospitality industry are a big deal in an area where nearly 35 million visitors spent $10.4 billion locally on tourism last year — supporting 184,000 leisure and hospitality jobs. To help invigorate economic momentum and job growth in San Diego, lawmakers must consider a fix to this standard.

Recently, there has been a welcome flurry of activity in our nation’s capital to try and provide restaurant owners and small businesses with some much-needed clarity. In fact, the Department of Labor moved in June to roll back the controversial decision with an executive order. Both developments prove that policymakers on both sides of the aisle hear the restaurant and small business community’s concerns. But in order to sustain a clear understanding that small business owners can rely upon, Congress must act.

Fortunately, there is already a piece of bipartisan legislation in Congress that would immediately fix this two-year old problem. The Save Local Business Act (House Resolution 3441) would return us to the common-sense definition where a business owner is accountable for his or her own employees, not those of other companies. Additionally, workers would be employed by the companies that hired them, not every other entity they consult for, contract with or provide services to.

Bringing back straightforward employer-employee relationships will make the workplace a less confusing place, where both sides can be confident in the lines of communication and responsibility. This will, in turn, have a positive impact on restaurateurs that are eager to return their focus to making great food.

H.R. 3441 is exactly what San Diego restaurants need. Hopefully, the California congressional delegation will sign onto this bill and continue leading the way for our bustling hospitality community. Our innovative chefs, restaurateurs and best-in-class workers who make this America’s Finest City are counting on it.

Duggan is the director of local government affairs of San Diego, Imperial, Riverside and San Bernadino counties for the California Restaurant Association.

To read the full editorial in the San Diego Union-Tribune, click here.

To learn more about the Save Local Business Act, visit edworkforce.house.gov/jointemployer.