Restaurant Chains' Obamacare Gripes Are Really About Shortchanging Workers


Posted on 19 November 2012

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By Anthony Wright

Since the election, we've heard of fast food and chain restaurant owners protesting the continued implementation of Obamacare, and the costs of having to provide health coverage to their workers. Some have threatened to cut worker hours, or add a surcharge to their meals.

Some of these claims have been walked back once they got media scrutiny, as owners of Denny's or Papa John's or Applebee's have to defend the dubious figures that they initially present. Even Jon Stewart could see their math didn't quite add up.

But the revolt of the chain restaurant owners is real - they have a business model that depends on low-wage workers with no benefits, leaving the cost of care for those workers to themselves, their families, and in many cases, the taxpayer.

That's why fast-food and chain restaurants have been traditionally opposed to health reform. They were the main opponents of an employer requirement to contribute to workers' health care costs here in California: SB2 in 2003, and Prop 72 in 2004. While the Chamber of Commerce and some other business groups were also opposed, it was the fast food and chain restaurants, with retailers, that raised the millions of dollars to narrowly defeat this health reform. (This echoed their opposition of the Clinton health reform effort - when the chair of the National Restaurant Association, Herman Cain, first came to prominence.)

When San Francisco went ahead with a similar health reform, even with the support of many employers, it was these chain restaurants that rebelled - they were the ones who went all the way to the Supreme Court, in Golden Gate Restaurant Association v. San Francisco, and some started putting "Healthy San Francisco" surcharges on their bills. But the courts upheld the law, and San Franciscans didn't think it was a bad thing to give medical care to the people who handled their food. Many restaurants were fine with complying with the law, and the restaurant scene in San Francisco is thriving as ever.

The irony is that Obamacare doesn't require employers to cover their workforce - but if it doesn't, it asks the large employers (over 50) to contribute to the cost of such coverage. So the result is that the worker gets coverage through the new Exchange, but the employer's contribution is less than if they had to get coverage. So it should be a win-win: workers get covered, and restaurants get a healthier, more stable workforce at a cheaper price, and we all get a health care system that is more financially stable, that we can all rely on when the time comes due to age or accident.

The attacks on President Obama are part of a historical pattern: Not only are these fast-food and chain restaurants dubious for your health, but they are often antagonistic to your health care as well.


Anthony Wright is Executive Director of Health Access California, a statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition of over 200 groups.

Why should businesses provide health insurance (or a penalty)? They simply pass it onto their customers. This shows that what we need is a single-payer health system (goodbye, insurance companies!!)