Statesman Journal: It’s time to end partisan gridlock and work together to protect jobs


By Jason Brandt | So many issues facing Oregon remain unsettled because of partisan gridlock, from ensuring healthcare access to solving income inequality. It’s refreshing when our representatives can agree on change that could have a very positive impact on our state.

Such an opportunity exists with a new, bipartisan bill introduced in Congress, known as the Save Local Business Act (H.R. 3441). Under the proposed legislation, America’s joint employer standard would be clarified, protecting the livelihood of Oregon’s restaurant and hospitality industry as well as a significant amount of jobs.

This couldn’t happen at a better time, as people of all ages and backgrounds are catching the entrepreneurial bug. Whether it’s millennials determined to offer the freshest food or restaurateurs taking the leap to license successful business models, the restaurant industry must stand ready to harness this enthusiasm.

You may be wondering how clarifying one obscure legal definition could have such a beneficial effect on the state’s economy. In 2015, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) surprised business owners by changing what it means to be an employer.

The NLRB issued a revised standard holding any company with “possible” control over another company’s workers legally accountable for workplace decisions. This was a major step away from over 30 years of clarity, in which businesses were only considered a joint employer when they had actual involvement over a company’s employees, including hiring, scheduling, and employee evaluations.

The new definition is concerning because “potential” control could describe almost any business interaction. For example, if the corner deli orders a sign from a Main Street business, it will certainly have some input that affects employees completing the work. Is that enough to trigger joint employer status? It’s unclear.

And what about a furniture maker who installs booths for a pizzeria? If the pizzeria owner points out where they should go, she could be involved enough to be considered an employer.

This is creating a huge wave of uncertainty throughout the business community.  Owners interested in expanding, bringing on contractors, or outsourcing basic functions like bookkeeping feel like they’re in a minefield of unforeseen liabilities. Small businesses especially run on razor thin margins and cannot risk a lawsuit because of the actions of an affiliated business.

But this could all be avoided if Congress passes H.R. 3441 and puts America back on sound footing, where businesses are responsible for their own employees, not other companies’ unless they have direct control over those workers.

By supporting the Save Local Business Act, Rep. Kurt Schrader can help usher in a new day for Oregon’s nearly 10,000 food and drink establishments and their more than 170,000 employees, as well as millions of affected workers in other industries.

I hope he takes hold of this rare bipartisan opportunity to foster a more stable employer environment and help ensure Oregon continues to enjoy some of the nation’s best places to eat.

Jason Brandt, president & CEO of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, can be reached at jbrandt@oregonrla.org