Some restaurant workers could see hours cut as employers weigh healthcare reform

by: Jim Bradley Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Full-time restaurant workers could soon see their hours cut. It's one of the major changes that could come out of President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law. 

As lunchtime customers began streaming into Jackalope Jacks on 7th Street recently, owner Rob Nixon was at his second restaurant a few miles away, worrying about his bottom line.

“Cost of product, cost of goods -- everything has gone up. Now we've got the cost of insurance that's being forced on us,” Nixon said.

Nixon is talking about the federal Affordable Care Act and its requirement that any business with more than 50 employees provide health insurance to employees working more than 30 hours a week.

At his new restaurant, called The Peculiar Rabbit, Nixon is already planning to make tough choices.

“Because of Obamacare, I'm going to take a lot of my full-time employees and take them to less than 30 hours a week,” he said.

The health insurance requirement isn’t scheduled to take effect for a year, but in the kitchen recently Eyewitness News found Brent Martin already dreading the impact.

“I'm the sous chef here and I actually make the schedule,” Martin said. “So when it comes down to it, I'm going to have to be cutting these guys' hours.”

The health insurance mandate is causing similar discussions at hundreds of other restaurants in the Charlotte area.

Their industry group, the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, calls it their number one issue and is lobbying hard for changes.

“There may be opportunities going forward for some tweaks in the legislation that make it a little more practical,” said Lynn Minges, president of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.

For now, restaurant employees face a potentially sobering future.

“It's going to be a lot of picking up second jobs,” Martin said.

While owners like Nixon feel caught in the middle.

“You feel like you're punishing them,” he said. “You feel like you're being punished yourself.”