Standing strong under pressure

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Thanks to Senator John Albers, Georgia hoteliers will continue to call the shots when it comes to their businesses.

by Brandon Vervelde

Battling blazes, even in small towns, is not for the faint of heart. Tens of thousands of firefighters are injured in the U.S. every year, and Albers takes those risks every time he gets the call and puts on the uniform. John Albers is a fourth-generation volunteer firefighter in Alpharetta, Georgia, a small community in the suburbs of Atlanta.

Albers withstands the heat to rescue those in need and extinguish fires because that’s his way of standing up for what’s right and giving back to his community. That same drive – his sense of purpose – is why he decided to run for the Georgia State Senate in 2010.

Politics is not without risk of its own. Certainly nothing compared to fighting fires, but there are frequently times when you’re standing alone, especially when you stand up for those who don’t have a voice, as Albers did for hotel owners in the 2015 fight to enact a $5 per-night hotel tax in Georgia. He was one of just 12 senators to vote against the proposal.

Georgia’s roads were in a terrible state of disrepair and the government said it needed a new source of revenue to fund the repairs. Hotels were the chosen target in the closing 48 hours of the legislative session and didn’t have a chance to speak up, and that didn’t sit right with Albers.

“The whole reason I ran for office was to make sure those who did not have a voice and were not getting treated the right way by our government would have that voice,” explains Albers, a Republican who represents nearly 185,000 Georgians who live in the 56th Senate District.

It’s not that he had a vested interest in hotels over anybody else. When an earlier version of the proposal had a $5 tax on rental cars instead of hotels, Albers voted no then, too. It’s a matter of principle for him.

“What’s right is right, and it doesn’t matter whether it was our friends in the hotel industry or it was those who run farms or a doctor’s office or anybody else,” said Albers.

That principle led him to another fight on behalf of hotels this year, this time with the federal government.

In 2015, a federal panel charged with overseeing business and labor disputes ruled that a franchisee’s employees are also the legal responsibility of franchisors. Both hotel franchisors and franchisees warned that the decision could fundamentally change their business – and every business that uses the franchise model – because it places immense legal responsibility on the brands when they have little to do with the day-to-day operations. Their concerns were ignored.

The day the ruling was released – August 28, 2015 – Albers was scheduled to speak at the North Georgia Region Meeting and Trade Show in Atlanta about the $5 hotel tax.

“On my drive down there I literally heard the news on the radio, and when I hit the door at the conference center it was the topic of conversation,” said Albers. “It became very apparent to me that we had a major problem on our hands that certainly impacted hoteliers but also their brethren in the child care world and the restaurant world and everyone else.”

He would later learn that there are more than 32,000 franchise businesses in Georgia that have created more than 330,000 jobs, according to the International Franchise Association.

That day Albers promised to pick up the mantle and stand up for hotel owners and all franchisees who didn’t get a voice in the decision. He planned to draft a bill that would protect both franchisors and franchisees in Georgia from the negative effects.

The Protecting Georgia Small Businesses Act is signed by Gov. Nathan Deal (sitting). Also pictured are State Rep. Brad Raffensperger (left of governor), State Sen. John Albers (right of governor) and AAHOA’s Brandon VerVelde (far right).

The Protecting Georgia Small Businesses Act is signed by Gov. Nathan Deal (sitting). Also pictured are State Rep. Brad Raffensperger (left of governor), State Sen. John Albers (right of governor) and AAHOA’s Brandon VerVelde (far right).

The Senate wouldn’t be back in session until January, but Albers got an early start and brought the issue to the attention of his fellow Republican senators and received immediate support. Expanding the circle wider, he briefed legislators in the Georgia House of Representatives and Gov. Nathan Deal’s staff and everybody was on board.

Albers aptly named the bill the Protecting Georgia Small Businesses Act and introduced it when the Senate reconvened in January for its short, three-month legislative session.

Shortly after, the bill encountered its first opposition. An advisory panel for the state’s workers’ compensation program said they had serious concerns about how the bill might impact their program.

Encountering opposition to a bill is a fork in the road for a legislator. Albers faced the choice of digging in his heels on the bill and demanding that it stay exactly as he drafted it or trying to find a compromise that would change the bill, perhaps substantially.

Albers said he approaches these moments with a simple roadmap: his principles.

“I’m willing to compromise where it makes sense, and that’s usually on matters of politics, but not on principle,” explains Albers.

The workers’ compensation panel requested that their program be exempted from the bill until they could more fully examine its impact. If that wasn’t done, they’d oppose the bill and use their substantial influence to stop it from passing.

“This one was very clear cut,” said Albers. “There was a smart area to compromise that made sense and I did very quickly.”

With the opposition removed, the bill passed the Senate and was sent to the House where it was passed three weeks later. Gov. Deal signed the Protecting Georgia Small Businesses Act into law on May 3, 2016.

One fire was put out with the bill’s passing. AAHOA members in Georgia – and all franchisees in the state – now have significant protections from federal government overreach written into Georgia law.

Another fire is still burning, however. Albers has pledged to work to repeal or reduce the $5 hotel tax in 2017, but its outcome is far from certain until more minds in the Georgia House and Senate are changed.

Albers’ advice for AAHOA members in Georgia is to start now to build a relationship with their elected official, but his advice applies equally to every state and every issue.

“The first thing is having a relationship,” said Albers, “We serve in public office at the pleasure of our constituents. I don’t have my senate seat. There’s 185,000 people I represent who couldn’t be there, and they sent me instead.”          ■

Brandon VerVelde is the director of State and Local Government Affairs for the Asian American Hotel Owners Association and can be reached at brandon@aahoa.com.

 

Taking the joint-employer fight to Congress
State Sen. John Albers fought for and passed the Protecting Georgia Small Businesses Act in his state. The bill combats the National Labor Relations Board decision that broadened a franchisor’s legal responsibility for franchisee employees, a relationship known as joint employer.

Earlier this year, AAHOA Washington Region Director Vinay Patel took the fight to Washington, D.C., when he testified before Congress on the subject.

“Franchising provided the best business model to expand our operations,” Patel told members of a House Small Business subcommittee about his efforts to expand from two independent properties. Had the new joint employer standard existed then, he “would have chosen another avenue for entrepreneurship.”

U.S. Rep. John Kline (R-Minnesota) and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) have introduced the Protecting Local Business Opportunity Act, which would roll back the decision on the federal level. The bill is one of AAHOA’s top legislative priorities.

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