Bob Omainsky: Alabama’s Bradley Byrne champions critical joint employer fix

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In the South, we love football, family, and food — especially here in Alabama where we have one of the most decorated football teams in the country, family gatherings are our favorite time of the week, and our food is tasty and soulful. There is no better way to bring football, family, and food together than at your favorite local restaurant.

Our restaurants are as spirited and rich as our traditions. Some have been in families and communities for generations while others have developed from new and fresh ideas. But one thing that each has in common is the vital role they play in our economy.

Restaurants contribute to job creation and economic growth while providing essential workforce development opportunities. They’re where employees build skills that shape their future success. They serve as pillars within their communities and are a driving force not just for Alabama’s economy, but for the nation’s economy.

Alabama has 7,845 eating and drinking locations that employ 185,300 people and contribute $8.1 billion in economic output. I find it troubling that any national policy would aim to hinder, or even eliminate, the industry’s growth potential. Unfortunately, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision to expand the joint employer definition did just that in 2015.

Joint employer is the standard by which two or more businesses share control of an employee. Before 2015, business owners had a clear understanding of when they might be liable for another company’s employment actions. The long-established standard held that you must have “direct” and “immediate” control over another company’s workers. Under the new rule, it’s not as simple. Today’s definition is drastically-expanded, putting restaurants at legal risk with only the vaguely defined “indirect” or “potential” control over another company’s employees.

Neither attorneys nor human resources professionals can agree on the scope of these terms — leaving business owners with little recourse but to buy more expensive and protective insurance and to reevaluate many of their business relationships altogether.

 Wintzell's Oyster House

Wintzell’s Oyster House in downtown Mobile, Ala. [Photo courtesy of
Wintzell’s Oyster House]

Take, for instance, my nearly 80-year-old business, Wintzell’s Oyster House. If we hire an outside landscaping company to keep our lawns lush, I could be considered a joint employer if I show the landscapers where to mow. Or, if I contract a food supplier for certain ingredients, I could become part of a lawsuit if one of their workers complains about overtime pay. The uncertainty is nothing more than governmental overreach that is crippling eateries like Wintzell’s and discouraging growth throughout the restaurant industry.

Thankfully, Alabama’s own Rep. Bradley Byrne has introduced bipartisan legislation that aims to roll back this confusing joint employer ruling and provide some much-needed clarity for millions of restaurants across America. Rep. Byrne and the more than 50 co-sponsors of H.R. 3441, the Save Local Business Act, understand the importance of having federal policies that help businesses grow and thrive for the good of our entire workforce.

On behalf of the 1,117 restaurants in Alabama’s 1st District that employ 22,259 men and women, I would like to thank Rep. Byrne for his continued leadership and his effort to clarify the joint employer issue. This is a critical measure because after all, a stable employer environment will only make our restaurants that much better at bringing together football, family, and food for generations to come.

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Bob Omainsky is owner-operator of Wintzell’s Oyster House, with three locations in the Mobile, Ala. area.

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