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Washington Examiner: Obamacare train wreck is crashing employment, too

July 30, 2013
Opinion Editorial

Every day we hear new reports of challenges surrounding the implementation of the president's health care law. More workers and businesses are coming forward to express frustration with the law.

Under the law's employer mandate, businesses are forced to provide government-approved health insurance or pay a penalty. The president's recent decision to delay the mandate for a year only underscores what many citizens, businesses, and members of Congress have been saying for a long time: The law is a train wreck.

Don't just take our word, though. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recently received a letter about the law's devastating consequences for workers.

The letter states, "When you and the president sought our support for the Affordable Care Act, you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them. Sadly, this promise is under threat.

"Right now, unless you and the Obama Administration enact an equitable fix, the ACA will shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40-hour workweek that is the backbone of the American middle class."

What's most surprising about this letter is not its content, but its source. This letter was written by the three of the nation's largest labor unions, the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and UNITE HERE.

And other unions have expressed similar disapproval of the law; earlier this year, the United Union of Roofers, Water-proofers and Allied Workers also called for "repeal or complete reform."

There is a reason the same organizations that pushed for this law are now hoping for change: Obamacare is far too complex. Businesses with 50 or more full-time employees will have to comply with the employer mandate. Businesses with part-time workers will have to calculate whether they meet the threshold of having 50 "full time equivalents" based on the law's interpretation of "full time," which is 30 hours per week.

This is a marked departure from the traditional 40-hour work week established under the Fair Labor Standards Act that has been a hallmark of America's workplaces for 75 years. The architects of the health care law chose to ignore this well-established federal standard and craft their own rules.

Unfortunately, employees will be hurt the most by the mandate. Many businesses that employ full-time workers cannot afford benefits on top of the wages they pay, so they will be forced to either lay workers off or cut their hours.

And this isn't us speculating on what will happen -- we've heard in direct testimony that this is already occurring.

On July 23, 2013, we held a joint hearing in which we heard from a witness responsible for implementing this mandate for a large company that employs 10,000 people Jamie Richardson, a vice president with the White Castle restaurant chain.

White Castle has offered their employees health insurance since before the Great Depression, and Mr. Richardson testified that this law and the uncertainty it creates is harming his company's employees, its ability to offer health insurance, and its capability to create jobs.

He said that White Castle's growth was directly and negatively impacted by this law. Richardson said, "I would like to tell you we've continued to open more restaurants in more neighborhoods, providing more jobs, and serving more customers. I'd like to tell you that, but I can't. In fact, White Castle's growth has halted."

These stories are the new normal. Michigan Subway franchisee Ken Adams is now hiring more part-time workers and letting go of full-time workers to avoid the higher fines. Tennessee Burger King franchisee Mike Clayton was forced to close his doors after 39 years because of the law.

American workers are hurting because of a law so complex that, even after three years of planning, the administration has admitted it still needs more time for a successful implementation.

While the one-year employer mandate delay offers temporary reprieve, it does not alter the fact that the law is unworkable and fatally flawed. Regardless of when the employer mandate is implemented, it will continue to destroy joys and force more Americans into working fewer hours.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., is chairman of the health, employment, pensions and labor subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Committee. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., is chairman of the committee's workforce protections subcommittee.

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