The Obamacare Surcharge, Part II

by Jillian Kay Melchior

Yesterday, I posted about John Metz, the franchise owner who planned to include a 5 percent “Obamacare surcharge” on his restaurant tickets. Many of you readers agreed with me that it was an honest approach but a risky business strategy.

Well, readers, as we predicted, Metz faced immediate and harsh criticism — including from the Denny’s Corp. CEO. Meanwhile, the Huffington Post reports that customers were so outraged that they boycotted Denny’s restaurants and jammed their phone lines, regardless of whether or not the restaurants were owned by Metz. So Metz is backing down.

I’m curious now about whether this is going to become a free-speech issue. Customers have every right, of course, to avoid a business they morally disagree with. And, of course, franchised companies are justified in their concern about how the political statements of individual franchise owners reflect their overall brand.

At the same time, I like this analysis from the International Franchise Association:

The International Franchise Association’s public opposition to Obamacare was based on analysis and feedback from franchisor and franchisee members, leading the trade organization to conclude it “was misguided public policy that wouldn’t result in better health care, but in job loss and a dramatic impact on the industry,” Judith Thorman, the group’s senior vice president for government relations and public policy, told The Huffington Post.

“I hope people still have ability in this country to speak out on the impact of public policy issues on their businesses,” Thorman said. “That’s all they’re really trying to do is to say this policy will have a dramatic economic impact. We may not all agree, but I think it’s good if everyone comes forward with their opinion, and that we have a dialogue on it.”

Individual franchise owners will have to cope with Obamacare’s added costs — and that’s a problem they can’t help but address eventually. Some will do it by quietly cutting their workforce. Others, like Metz, may choose to speak out publicly. But let’s at least acknowledge that these business owners are being subjected to a double injustice. First, the public expects them to absorb added costs without changing their business model. And second, it expects them to suffer in silence.

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