Rob Branca, DDIFO Legislative Affairs Coordinator

Rob Branca, DDIFO Legislative Affairs Coordinator

After a year of voluntarily leading the DDIFO’s government relations initiative, Robert Branca’s role has been formalized. In June, DDIFO President Jim Coen officially named Branca – a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owner and operator in four states – as DDIFO Legislative Affairs Coordinator.  It remains an unpaid position.

“Being a franchise owner, Rob understands firsthand what impact government regulations have on the operations and management of the business. Rob’s passion is to make sure franchise owners have a say in directing government to effect more positive changes and minimize harmful regulations,” said Coen. “Our businesses impact tens of thousands of families, so there’s a lot to protect, and Rob has the capacity and dedication to do just that.”

Branca says he and his partners were evaluating their membership in various organizations, including the DDIFO, a little more than a year ago. Considering the increasing government regulatory issues affecting their business, they determined there were specific things they wanted the DDIFO to focus primarily  matters concerning government relations. They felt that legislators and regulators were not aware of the impact of their actions – including costs and other consequences of compliance – on Dunkin’ franchise owners. Indeed, Branca notes that “Regulations are issued on a seemingly whimsical basis, often requiring a business owner to be in violation of one set of rules to comply with another.”  Branca also points out that Dunkin’ Brands recognized the need to  establish its own formal  government relations team rather than relying on the IFA lobby as it had for years, but he still believed franchisees needed their own independent input. “We felt that a strong voice and a more direct approach was necessary to put a face on the small business owner,” said Branca.  “While Dunkin’ Brands has been highly effective, by virtue of its size it simply cannot be seen as the face of local shop owners.  Franchise owners need to fill that role and distinguish our small businesses from the large corporate lobbying interests that are so negatively viewed by the public.”

When Jim Coen became DDIFO president, Branca approached Coen and the DDIFO Board about placing a high priority on legislative affairs, and he volunteered to spearhead the initiative. The new leadership gave Branca the go-ahead to take up government relations and Branca began reporting to Coen and working with Joseph A. Giannino, of Government Relations Group, the firm retained by the DDIFO. Due to the myriad of complex legislative and regulatory issues now facing Dunkin’ franchisees, as well as the outstanding work Branca has been doing, Coen and the Board felt it was time to formalize Branca’s role, especially as he has no other function in the other initiatives or daily business of the DDIFO.

“Essentially, we’ve created a powerful government relations team by combining Rob’s and Joe’s efforts and areas of expertise,” said Coen. “Rob was an attorney who worked with a lot of Dunkin franchise owners before becoming one himself, and worked on national banking legislation as a member of the Washington, D.C. bar, so he has a deep understanding of both the Dunkin’ system and the legislative process. He is a top-notch spokesperson for us because he can so eloquently speak to legislators and regulators about the real-life consequences of their actions.”

Joe Giannino echoes Coen’s assessment. “It’s been an exceptional experience working alongside Rob in an effort to promote our agenda,” said Giannino. “His instincts – both political and practical – are spot on, and the credibility he brings to meetings from the legal and ownership perspectives is very effective.”

Galvanizing franchise owners to get involved and become more politically active is one of Branca’s most pressing tasks. “As small business owners, we already have power with legislators because – whether they are conservative, liberal or somewhere in between – they all want to be seen as champions of small business,” stated Branca. “As Dunkin’ franchisees, we have to take advantage of this power by engaging with our legislators. We need to make sure our representatives know who we are, the vital role we play in our communities and the issues of greatest concern to us. We need to make Dunkin’ Donuts a political presence in our respective districts by attending fundraisers, making political contributions, and talking with and writing to our legislators.”

Branca says if franchise owners aren’t comfortable with the political process or don’t have the time to engage personally, they can request that he find someone to speak with legislators on their behalf. They can also band together with other franchisees in their district and approach or support legislators as a group, or have one of their group deliver their message for all of them. In addition, they can use the CFA Votes tool to easily send letters about key issues to their elected officials. That website can automatically generate letters or emails to the proper federal representatives when a user simply types in his or her address. Go CFA Votes and give it a try.

“You have to remember the truth in the saying, ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease,’ and there is a proven way to make your voice heard as a business owner: be engaged in the process and support the officials that support us. Franchise owners should make a point of reading the DDIFO Legal & Legislative Updates and not hesitate to contact me or Jim Coen with any questions they might have about legislative issues,” said Branca. “If you care about the future of your business and preserving something for your children, you need to be actively engaged in the political process. If you do not speak out about an issue, your legislators assume that you don’t care or support what is being done, and you can and will safely be ignored.”

Branca calls attention to the following legislative/regulatory issues facing franchisees:

• State Nutrition Labeling/Calorie Content Regulations
Officials from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MA DPH) wanted to require chain restaurants to prominently display the calorie content of their food offerings on menu boards. In a late spring meeting with these officials, Branca and Giannino successfully demonstrated the negative implications of such regulations for Dunkin’ franchisees, highlighting the costs for new signage – including costs to the state if shops had to close for installations, requiring permits, new inspections, etc. – as well as the real possibility that these state regulations could be superceded by federal regulations within a year’s time, resulting in even more expense for franchisees and the state. Branca and Giannino persuaded the MA DPH to delay the implementation of state regulations at least until a there is a clearer picture of the federal regulations.

• Massachusetts Tip-Pooling Statute
While intended to prevent business owners and managers who don’t work in direct service operations from skimming employees’ tips, the statute is so ambiguously written that “literally construed, the statute can be read to deny tips to nearly everyone in the team service environment that we have in our shops,” said Branca. “Because the statute says that no one with “managerial authority” can collect tips, there are countless scenarios in Dunkin’ shops in which someone who is not a true manager would be denied tips despite doing precisely the same work as everyone else on the shift.” Further, the statute has been spurring class action lawsuits, including at least one against a Dunkin’ franchisee and was recently revised to make  triple damages plus 12% interest and attorney fees mandatory; judges have no discretion in such lawsuits. Branca and Giannino are working with important state legislators to amend the statute to repair the inherent inequities, and Branca is working alongside the Brand and DDIFO legal counsel, Carl Lisa, with the Mass. Attorney General’s office regarding the AG’s role in matter. DDIFO members will be notified which legislators were helpful and which were not in protecting Dunkin’ franchise owner interests.

• Credit Card Legislation
A host of credit card-related legislation is pending on the federal level, including the Credit Card Fair Fee Act.  Some of the proposed laws would require credit card companies to negotiate directly with merchants in setting and disclosing interchange fees, some deal with issues of PCI compliance, some with ability to charge different prices for cash transactions versus credit/debit card transactions and the liability and costs incurred by merchants in holding identifying data as required by credit card companies.

• Healthy Families Act
Put simply, this legislation would require business owners to maintain any paid vacation/leave programs they already offer employees while additionally mandating several weeks of paid sick leave, and be a potentially substanial source of litigation and costs.

Branca and Giannino are keeping a close eye on developments with the credit card legislation, the Healthy Families Act, and other laws and regulations with potentially devastating effects on franchise owners. What’s more, they are proactively meeting with decision makers to make the case for amendments or repeals that would best benefit Dunkin’ franchiseees, thru both DDIFO and the Coalition of Franchisee Associations in Washington, D.C.

Another priority for Branca is working toward Dunkin’ franchise owners forming their own Dunkin’ Donuts Franchisee Political Action Committee (PAC). Branca and John Paul Motta, a Dunkin’ franchise owner, are working together on this with the support of the Brand. They are trying to establish the PAC through the national DCP Board because of the shared issues and concerns among all Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins franchisees. “If we can speak together through our own PAC, we can perhaps influence some of the more harmful legislation that is coming our way and even introduce legislation that would be helpful to all of us.  John and I feel strongly that this is a necessary tool for franchisees.”

DDIFO members should feel free to contact Branca at robertbranca@hotmail.com with legislative concerns and questions or for advice on effectively stepping up political involvement.