The Austin Chronicle

Barbecue With a Side Order of Politics

By Michael King, November 2, 2012, News

County Line restaurant employees were surprised to discover an "Open Letter" (at right) from their bosses accompanying a recent paycheck. Ostensibly about "Health Insurance – Starting in 2014," the memo informed them at some length that as a result of the new federal health care law, "YOU will have to buy health insurance. Your employer may help you, but YOU will be legally required to buy health insurance." Following a one-sided summary of the law's potential costs, the memo continued, "Because of this law many of our employees will be restricted to working less than 30 hours per week," and concluded, "The law could be repealed, but that would require a Republican President, and Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives."

Some employees apparently read the memo as threatening their jobs as well as implicitly pressuring them to vote Republican. Asked about it, County Line co-owner Skeeter Miller said he had composed the memo with the help of employees and that its intent was simply "educational" – to make it clear that the new health care law did not mean "free health insurance" for all employees. "It doesn't make any difference to me who they vote for," said Miller. "I just wanted them to understand that the new law does not mean 'free insurance.'"

He said the four-location restaurant chain provides company-supported insurance for managers and full-time employees, and "another plan" for part-timers. "We take good care of our employees, all of them. ... I loan them money, I take care of them, and it scares me that they think they're not going to have to pay for insurance, and I don't want them to be shocked.

"I wanted them to be informed," Miller continued. "That's all I wanted to do. I'm not going to cut anybody's time back, but more than likely, anybody that comes on new is not going to be able to work more than 30 hours. ... My employees asked me to write it this way, and they felt it should be in the paycheck, so everybody knew. I've always listened to my employees, and that's why I've been in business for 37 years."

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