Livia Gershon writes in the Worcester Business Journal that in 2004, the state passed a law that kept restaurant staff with managerial responsibilities from being part of any tip pool.

According to Jim Coen, president of Bellingham-based Dunkin’ Donuts Independent Franchise Owners Inc., it was a good idea, but the specific legal language has caused problems for his members. He said crew leaders at Dunkin’ stores have minimal managerial responsibilities, but the law still appears to keep them from sharing in tip jars. To avoid conflicts around the issue, Coen said, many franchise owners have eliminated tip jars altogether.

To help address political questions like the tip law, Dunkin’ franchise owners have formed the

Dunkin’ Donuts Franchise Owners Massachusetts Political Action Committee. DDIFO, which already uses a lobbyist on Beacon Hill, is legally a separate entity from the PAC, but Coen said it helped set the fund up and is encouraging its members to contribute.

For The Little Guy

Coen said one purpose of the PAC is simply to help elect politicians who support small businesses in general, but it will also look out for the specific interests of Dunkin’ franchise owners. He said the PAC could contribute to other PACs that work for small businesses or restaurant owners, or make direct contributions to politicians.

“Certainly there are times when our needs align with other organizations, but there are other times when our needs don’t align,” Coen said.

The new PAC isn’t the only one representing franchise owners. Coen said the most prominent franchisee PAC is the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association PAC.

Regional Appeal

DDIFO represents the owners of more than 2,000 Dunkin’ shops both in Massachusetts and elsewhere, Coen said. He said most members are connected to a Dunkin’ distribution center in Bellingham that is cooperatively owned by franchisees, mainly in Massachusetts and upstate New York.

Coen said the new PAC is specifically focused on Massachusetts, but he’s already received inquiries from franchise owners in other states about the possibility of forming equivalent groups elsewhere.

Besides revisiting the tip pool issue, Coen said another issue for Dunkin’ franchises is the push for chain restaurants to post nutrition information.

He said the DDIFO sees the idea as inevitable on the national level but worries about the way it’s being implemented by individual cities and states.

Right now, he said, New York City and parts of upstate New York have their own posting rules, while Massachusetts and New Jersey are considering slightly different ones. That makes things more complicated, and more expensive, for franchisees who own stores in multiple locations.

Dunkin’ Donuts parent corporation is based in Canton and was founded in Quincy in 1950. Its first franchise was licensed in 1955.

There were 8,835 Dunkin’ Donuts stores worldwide at the end of 2008, according to the Dunkin’ Donuts web site.