How was your Summer?

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Photo (L-R): At the Shore with President NJ Food Council, Linda Doherty and Senator Jennifer Beck.

by NJRHA President, Marilou Halvorsen

Fall has arrived and for many of us, summer’s end is bittersweet. I was elated to personally witness restaurants and cafes filled to capacity this summer, and to hear anecdotes of success from NJRHA members. ¬†In these moments, the losses and devastation that our industry suffered during Hurricane Sandy seemed a distant memory.

So profits must be finally flowing, right?

Wrong.

As we know, average profit in the hospitality industry is between five and six percent and it will take several more years to recoup the losses we suffered three years ago. Hurricane Sandy claimed nearly a third of our members, many of who were already struggling to survive in the sluggish NJ economy. They say time heals all wounds and although our wounds are deep, we can find solace in knowing that the recovery process has started.

I’m thrilled that our industry is on the uptick and that we’re finally¬†close to breaking even, but putting aside natural disasters, our industry has continued to be threatened with extinction. Immediately following Sandy came the mandatory implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Now, we face three additional bills that threaten our livelihood: paid sick leave, predictive scheduling and the $15 minimum wage.

Who wouldn’t want more hourly money, paid sick time off, or to know exactly what their schedule might be? This all sounds wonderful for most; who would object to receiving a higher hourly wage and additional paid time off, or to knowing in advance what their work schedule might be? But it’s not that simple particularly in our industry. There comes a tipping point for business owners when excessive pay hikes and over-regulation destroy any chance of success. This is especially true in our industry, which is heavily comprised of part-time employment. These legislative changes affect businesses from the top-down; jobs will be lost, businesses will close and communities will lose their favorite gathering places.

Consider this; the proposed increase in minimum wage would require a 16-year-old busboy to be paid $15 an hour, the current going-rate for a trained line cook. Who do you think will lose their job first? If you do hire the busboy at that rate, will your line cook quit unless he receives a raise? For years this industry has been a starting ground for teenagers, immigrants, single moms and people in need of a second chance. This would no longer be possible.

As for paid sick leave, while many restaurants and hotels offer this benefit to their veteran employees, the current legislative bill sets no parameters. As a result, your Executive Chef could “call out” two hours before the busiest shift of the year, or half your staff may be coincidentally sick on New Year’s Eve. No lead time and no excuses required. This legislative mandate would prove fatal for our labor-intensive industry.

Predictive scheduling also sounds logical, but think again. This legislation would destroy one of the few advantages our industry does have; the ability to offer flexible schedules that fit the varying needs and lifestyles of our employees.

The issues on the table in Trenton right now will shape the future of our industry and so as the days grow colder and the nights get longer, we must unite and make our voices heard. Together, we can be stronger than ever by the time the Memorial Day crowds rush to the shore next summer.