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Hillary Clinton

Chefs, operators rally around Hillary Clinton

The next President will set the agenda for businesses over the next four years. NRN breaks down what you need to know. RELATED: Donald Trump puts focus on business

Photo: Getty Images

The minimum wage, immigration reform and a call for unity are key issues for those in the restaurant industry who support Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency.

Although the restaurant industry generally leans Republican, Clinton has won backing from many who contend she is the better choice for business owners concerned about driving a healthy economy.

Clinton fans include power players like Starbucks Corp. chairman and CEO Howard Schultz, a longtime supporter of Democratic candidates, who recently told CNNMoney, “I think it’s obvious Hillary Clinton needs to be the next president.”

Others, like New York chef and “Top Chef Masters” alum Suvir Saran, owner of the restaurant Tapestry, said the Republican Party doesn’t have the appeal for business owners it may once have had.

“Republicans have shown no fiscal strength, but they have shown how they can divide us,” Saran said. 

He said it was a Democratic president who brought the country through a devastating economic crisis over the past eight years. 

Clinton’s call for unity, Saran said, appeals to those who are in the business of gathering people around a table.

Chefs from around the country have shown support for Clinton in a “Chefs for Hillary” campaign on Pinterest, including prominent figures such as Mario Batali, Dominique Ansel and Art Smith.

Victor Albisu, chef/owner of the Washington, D.C., restaurants Del Campo and Taco Bamba, is also among them. Albisu traveled on behalf of the State Department as part of a chef diplomatic corps created by Clinton in partnership with the James Beard Foundation.

“I believe Secretary Clinton did a lot as Secretary of State to advance relations internationally with the culinary world,” Albisu said. 

But on the issues, even supporters disagreed about how a Clinton presidency would impact business. 

Minimum wage

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Throughout the campaign, Clinton has expressed support for a $12-per-hour federal minimum wage, as well as higher wages in certain locales, like New York City and California. The Democratic Party platform includes support for a $15-per-hour minimum wage over time and ending the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers.

But the International Franchise Association is concerned about Clinton’s “tacit endorsement” of a $15 hourly minimum wage and other positions.

“The things she’s proposed for small business have nibbled around the edges, but they are not things that would do much to generate enthusiastic support in the franchise community,” said Matthew Haller, senior vice president of public affairs for the IFA. “We would urge her to pursue more aggressive tax relief and to open up the conversation about immigration.”

Paul Saginaw, who calls himself “chief spiritual officer” of the collection of businesses that includes the iconic Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Mich., is all for a $15-per-hour minimum wage. His operation employs more than 700 people and does more than $65 million in annual sales.

“I’m one of thousands of business owners who believe we are way, way, long overdue for a federal minimum wage increase,” Saginaw said. “The current wage is worth less than it was in 1950 in real dollars, and that’s not good for business, it’s not good for the economy and it’s bad for employees.”

But Oxford, Miss.-based John Currence, owner of six concepts including City Grocery, Bouré and Big Bad Breakfast, is terrified of a $15-per-hour wage and the elimination of a tip credit.

“It will create de facto inflation. It will take that $10 burger we’re serving now and shove it to a $15 burger,” Currence said. “People will make more, but it will cost them more to live.”

Still, Currence said he is solidly in Clinton’s camp.


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Healthcare has been a key issue for Clinton throughout her 25 years in public service. 

In a statement on her website, she said: “I want to build on the progress we’ve made. I’ll do more to bring down healthcare costs for families, ease burdens on small business, and make sure consumers have the choices they deserve.”

That means defending and expanding the Affordable Care Act, which Clinton sees as a step toward the goal of universal healthcare.

Clinton said she will work to bring down rising out-of-pocket healthcare costs, like co-pays and deductibles, as well as reducing the cost of prescription drugs.

Iliana de la Vega, owner of the Mexican restaurant El Naranjo in Austin, Texas, said she’s been happy with Obamacare, and would like to see more access to healthcare in America.

“Even in Mexico, where healthcare is not the greatest, everyone at least can have access,” said de la Vega, who is originally from Mexico City.

Joint-employer rulings

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The National Labor Relations Board’s stand on franchisors being considered “joint employers” with franchisees is an issue not likely to be challenged by Clinton.

Democrats opposed legislation that would have struck down the ruling, which some industry groups say will allow franchisors to be held liable for the employment practices of their franchisees.

Clinton is also stongly pro-union.

“I’ve always believed that when unions are strong, families are strong, and America is strong,” she said in a statement, pledging to protect workers’ collective bargaining rights and to prevent wage theft.

Such issues could send business owners running to the Republican candidate. But Ken Weinstein, owner of the Trolly Car Diner and other restaurants in Philadelphia, said such leanings can be short-sighted.

“A lot of restaurant owners don’t look at the bigger picture,” he said. “They’re looking at their bottom line every month. But if we look ahead — one, two or five years — and treat our employees better, we’ll do better as an industry.”


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As president, Hillary Clinton says she would create pathways to citizenship. Photo: Getty Images

Clinton supports creating a pathway to citizenship that would bring millions of undocumented workers into the formal economy. She wants to see an end to the three- and 10-year bans that force families to separate and has sworn to defend President Obama’s executive actions that would allow immigrants who arrived as children to work lawfully, as well as parents of American-born children.

Chef Saran said the mass deportation of immigrants proposed by Trump would impact the entire food chain negatively, from farmer to kitchen.

Recently, one of Saran’s line cooks begged him for more hours, saying he feared he’d be forced to leave the country come November.

“People are afraid,” Saran said.

Employee protections

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As president, Clinton has pledged to guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, and to ensure that workers get at least two-thirds of their current wages, up to a ceiling, while on leave.

The program would be funded with tax reforms.

Scott Svenson, founder and CEO of MOD Pizza, said these and other labor issues, like shifting overtime rules, will put the overall labor agenda front and center for business operators.

“The industry is getting hit across the board,” he said. “I’m a fan of improving working conditions and pay for our team members, but I’m for doing it in a way where people can actually survive that transition. That’s going to be a challenge for anyone who becomes president.”

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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