In the days and weeks since the presidential election, much has been written about the potential impacts of the election results on operators. Other than some uneasiness over trade and consumer confidence, entry-level employers generally feel optimistic about what might lie ahead with policy changes to taxes, wages and healthcare. Most employers feel like they got a big “win” election night and, in many cases, they may be right. But we cannot afford to ignore a different set of potential challenges created by the same people traditionally thought of as pro-business.
President-elect Trump has made statements that could lead to a few obstacles. Let’s start with his plan to immediately go after either a full repeal or, at least, a major overhaul of the Affordable Care Act. A Republican-held Congress is ready to act in some fashion. While this may make many employers gleeful, restaurant operators need to remember that embedded deep in the ACA is language outlining national menu labeling standards that the industry championed for many years. This was done in part as a strategy to offset numerous states taking actions on their own. Full repeal of the ACA may leave restaurant owners and operators in limbo and, once again, vulnerable to state and local activity that could include compliance burdens.
Human resource managers must also consider how a repeal will impact company health plans that in many cases provide more benefits to employees because of mandates in Obamacare. Executives will have a real employee relations problem on their hands if they start walking back benefits workers have grown accustomed to having.
A few days after the election Trump pleased Wall Street with an announcement that his administration would make an effort to repeal or radically alter the Dodd-Frank law which protects consumers from abusive financial services practices and prohibits “too big to fail” bailouts. While stability in the financial sector is critically important to the economy and to all employers, it’s really been an issue fought out between the financial sector, regulators and the consumers they both claim to serve. What employers need to remember is that, embedded in the Dodd-Frank law, is the infamous Durbin Amendment – language critical to retail operators that requires the Federal Reserve to limit fees charged to retailers for debit card processing. The convenience store, retail and restaurant industries fought long and hard for that provision which saves their industries billions of dollars in fees. A repeal of Dodd-Frank could mean revoking those caps. If Dodd-Frank is open to significant alteration, banks and credit card companies get an open shot at removing those protections for retailers, which, by the way, were passed when Democrats ran the Senate. No such backstop exists now and you better believe if Republicans in the Senate have to choose between the banks and entry-level employers, the banks will win every time.
And don’t forget immigration. All the talk about building a wall has distracted employers from remembering that over the last five years, Tea Party Republicans have led vigorous efforts in many traditionally red states to address the immigration problem. They didn’t focus on illegal workers. Instead, Tea Partiers went after the employers who hire them – a significant shift from the previous 25 years. New laws passed in many states threatened fines, loss of business license and even imprisonment for willful offenders. Despite opposition from most state chambers of commerce, those bills passed easily through many legislatures. If you’re keeping score at home, the same Tea Party folks pushing anti-employer laws had a really enjoyable election night and are heading to Washington.
Campaigns are about making contrasts where policy making is about forging compromises. Instead of being played on the edges of red and blue, policy making is played in the messy gray middle. The bottom line is employers have some real political and policy opportunities ahead of them to play offense. There’s at least a two-year window to leverage Republican leadership in Congress and the White House. Conversely, they have some real challenges ahead protecting some hard-fought policy victories from that same crowd that wants to placate the populist revolt that got them elected. It’s a good time to flip the order of an old saying– keep your enemies close and your friends closer.
Joe Kefauver is managing partner of Align Public Strategies, a full service public affairs and creative firm that helps corporate brands, governments and nonprofits navigate the outside world and inform their internal decision-making. For more information, go to AlignPublicStrategies.com.