A New Year Brings Hope but Also Concern

By Marilou Halvorsen, NJRHA President

The beginning of every new year brings hope and promise. Resolutions are made, diets are started, and commitments to ourselves and others are promised. It is a time to reflect on the previous year and what lessons can be learned.

This year, New Jersey has a new Governor and new legislature. This new beginning brings concern to our industry and small business. The Governor’s new progressive agenda will have an impact on us: a $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave, a restrictive scheduling bill, and the legalization of marijuana are topics of concern, to name a few. While some may have more of an impact than others, the culmination of it all is what really has the potential to devastate us.

As I reflect on the past year and lessons I have learned, I am considering how I can better advocate for my industry. Do I keep yelling into the wind about business closings, slim profit margins, and companies moving out of state? Or, do I try and find a middle ground so that I can educate our elected officials in a way they can understand? To simply say that a $15 minimum wage will force businesses to close or cut into profit margins doesn’t resonate with legislators, especially those who have more progressive policies. So… what can we do?

We can tell the story about job loss or loss of hours—the unintended consequences of these bills. We can talk about how many “first jobs” were in the restaurant industry and how a $15 wage doesn’t make sense for a 16-year-old. We can talk about how people work in this industry because of the flexibility it offers and how a restrictive scheduling mandate would hurt employees who have children, those working while in school, or those who simply enjoy flexibility in their jobs. Regardless of the issue, we need to be prepared to advocate for ourselves and our employees in a way that our elected representatives will understand—and a way that will make them listen.

The table is set, and everyone is seated. Now, we need to be present at the table to tell the hospitality industry’s story. We are the economic engine of the state. We are the industry of opportunity. We hire local residents, serve the local community, and contribute to local organizations. Our New Year’s resolution is to continue to build the bridge between New Jersey’s businesses and policymakers in a way that ensures that the hospitality industry will be heard, considered, and invited back to the table for the next discussion.

My very best for a happy and healthy New Year.