Two brothers who own a chain of restaurants in Wyoming warned of canceled health insurance for managers, reduced hours for full-time employees and massive layoffs if President Barack Obama is re-elected and the Affordable Care Act remains intact.
Tim and Rob Woodward say they’re not the only proprietors to do so.
The Woodwards own Bagelmakers and Subway restaurants in Wyoming and Colorado. Tim lives in Laramie and Rob in Loveland, Colo. They presented a possible bleak future for their 41-restaurant chain and 341 employees in an op-ed piece published in the Laramie Boomerang, Oct. 24. Citing decreased earnings and minimal job growth if the ACA stands, the Woodwards vowed to terminate a majority of their employees by 2014, predicted more than $600,000 in penalties per year and expected to liquidate two-thirds of their restaurants because of additional costs if Obama wins Tuesday’s election.
The Woodwards support Republican candidate Mitt Romney and want the ACA repealed.
An anonymous complaint about the brothers’ op-ed landed in the office of state Elections Director Peggy Nighswonger, accusing the brothers of voter intimidation. By law, Nighswonger sent it to Albany County Attorney Richard Bohling.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bohling, a Republican, told the Star-Tribune when asked about the complaint. “And I wouldn’t tell you anything if I did.”
Accusations of voter intimidation by business owners are popping up all over the country, according to media reports. The Koch brothers subsidary Georgia Pacific has been accused of intimidating its employees into voting for Romney. It sent a “Voter Information Packet” to 45,000 employees saying job security depends on the outcome of the election. Colorado businessman Chris Smith, owner of the senior home care company Visiting Angels, sent an email to his employees arguing that Romney would repeal the health care law and save their jobs.
“For the sake of the 80 people working for Visiting Angels and your own paycheck, remember, on November 3 (sic), it will be a close presidential race,” he wrote in the email. “Please VOTE!”
Employees are able to vote for whomever they please and will not face any action if they vote for a candidate other than Romney, the Woodwards wrote in the op-ed.
“I did not tell my managers who to vote for,” Tim Woodward said. “I just wanted to lay out some facts on how it would affect my business.”
The Woodwards did write that constituents who vote for Obama are responsible for canceling health insurance for 25 families, slashing the paychecks of 34 employees by 25 percent, cutting the wages of 341 employees by 10 percent and putting a ceiling on the careers of employees.
An owner of a company can say, “Vote Romney,” but can’t say, “Vote Romney — or else” in Wyoming, Nighswonger said. Employers who interfere with employees’ rights to choose a candidate are breaking the law, she added.
She declined to comment on whether the Woodwards violated the law. However, she said, “It would be better if they encourage their employees to vote instead of pressuring their employees to vote.”
The Woodwards said they didn’t distribute the op-ed to employees.
“[The op-ed] shows we are fighting like hell for our employees,” Rob Woodward wrote in an email to the Star-Tribune.
The Woodwards said they had a meeting with a handful of managers and shared the facts given to them by their attorneys, accountants and advisers. “I didn’t even mention Romney during the entire meeting,” Rob Woodward wrote.
The Coalition of Franchisee Associations sent Tim Woodward information about the ACA. It was sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has spent more than $100 million opposing the health care reform law and the president.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services provides nonpartisan training to groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce but cannot control the messages other organizations disperse, agency spokesperson Fabien Levy wrote in an email to the Star-Tribune
“Over the past two years, the Department of Health and Human Services has been in constant contact with stakeholders, answering questions and providing guidance through bulletins, phone calls, webinars, in-person meetings and rulemaking,” Levy wrote.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce did not return phone calls from the Star-Tribune.
The Woodward brothers said the Coalition of Franchisee Associations presentation was the catalyst in their decision to talk to their employees about the effect of the election on the future of their business.
“I am just one guy trying to act on the best information I can get,” Tim Woodward said. “That’s why ‘Obamacare’ has a stranglehold on the economy. No one knows what it means.”
For many reasons, companies never have 100 percent of employees covered, said Terry Gardiner, vice president of policy and strategy for Small Business Majority, a national small business association. Employees could be on the plans of spouses or parents or find something on their own. Under the ACA, the Woodward brothers worry they will face penalties for employees who don’t accept an insurance plan offered by the company.
“If they offer health care to all employees, they wouldn’t be subject to penalty,” Gardiner said. “They are not responsible if employees don’t want it.”
Gardiner said the brothers would face fines in two circumstances: If they don’t offer insurance or if they offer plans where premiums exceed 9.5 percent of an employee’s income.
Nationally, 96 percent of businesses with more than 50 employees offer insurance plans to all their workers, Gardiner said. The Woodwards are in the 4 percent minority who don’t, he said. Their business model is probably “built on not providing benefits” to all employees, he said.