This issue of Independent Joe is our 50th issue. DDIFO first published “Indy Joe” back in the spring of 2009 as a 16-page quarterly publication. The cover of the inaugural issue teased a feature on the benefits of mediation versus litigation, along with a photo insert of Brad Pitt carrying a medium cup of Dunkin’ coffee. Mediation may still be a wise road to follow and Brad Pitt may still run on Dunkin’, albeit without Angelina Jolie, but there’s been much that’s changed since that first issue nine years ago.

Dunkin’ Brands’ leadership has undergone significant changes during that time. In January 2009, Nigel Travis took over as CEO. Later that year (and after we published issue No. 1) Dunkin’s controversial chief legal counsel Steve Horn left the company. It was never lost on Indy Joe that Horn’s resignation came after this organization publicized how the Horn’s Loss Prevention initiative was a profit center suing franchisees and churning ownership groups.

Furthermore, since that first issue came out, Dunkin’ went to Wall St. with a highly publicized initial public offering of stock on the NASDAQ exchange at an initial price of $19. To underscore the changes in the DNKN stock, Wall Street analyst Piper Jaffray recently upped the Dunkin’ target price to $70 per share.

In 2009, Barack Obama was inaugurated President and assumed leadership of a nation stinging from a global recession and facing 10 percent unemployment. Today, President Donald Trump, a bona fide political newcomer, is presiding over an expanding economy with a 3.8 percent unemployment rate and for the first time ever, more jobs open (6.7 million) than there are unemployed individuals (6.1 million) to fill them.

In 2009, organized labor was metaphorically singing “Happy Days Are Here Again!” as the Obama administration moved to codify mandates extending employee pay, rights and benefits while simultaneously tightening the screws on small business. By contrast and illustrative of significant change, on the last day of its 2018 session, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v AFSCME that the government cannot mandate that employees pay fees to unions to which the employee may not wish to belong. And, while the Janus decision only applies to public employee unions, many believe it will ultimately apply to private sector unions as well.

DDIFO has changed in many ways as well. In 2009, our membership was largely concentrated in the six New England states, with some representation in New York, New Jersey, and a handful of shops in the Midwest. Today representation is more widely spread across the Dunkin’ footprint. One year after Indy Joe came on line, DDIFO held its first National Conference. A few weeks ago, the 8th annual National Conference was held in New Orleans and welcomed members and non-members alike from 22 different states.

Yet, despite these examples, many things have not changed at the Canton, Mass. headquarters of Dunkin’ Brands. Dunkin’ continues to push costs down onto franchisees. Store remodels now range anywhere from $425,000 to $750,000, and every penny of it comes out of the franchisee’s pocket. Similarly, Dunkin’ has made material changes to its franchise documents, many of which may not be in the best interests of franchise owners. Case in point, the 2016 Franchise Agreement Dunkin’ put on the table, which could have negatively impacted franchisee equity had DDIFO not stepped in to review the documents and press the brand for changes.

I wanted to be sure to reference the Janus decision because I see some major parallels between the new rules under which public employee unions now must operate and how DDIFO has functioned over its almost 30 year history. DDIFO’s mission is to represent the interests of the Dunkin’ franchise owner community, whenever and wherever their interests are being threatened. It doesn’t matter if the franchisees under threat are members of this organization or not. It doesn’t matter if the threat comes from the federal government, or a state or local government. It doesn’t matter if the threat comes from Dunkin’ Brands, in the form of new mandates or stealthily adopted language changes. Since its inception, DDIFO has always kept that vigil and it will continue to do so.

The former chief executive of the Hardees and Carl’s Jr chains, Andy Puzder, said something that stuck with me when he took the stage at the National Conference in New Orleans. He told the crowd, “If you own a business, you have to speak up.” And he encouraged people to speak up both as individual owners, and as part of their system, if they operate a franchised business. Puzder’s point is that those who own businesses, pay corporate taxes, and contribute to their communities are also the ones trying to find workers to fill the nation’s 6.7 million open jobs. As a group you have leverage to see that the rules and regulations impacting your industry don’t interfere with your ability to hire people and recognize profits.

It remains to be seen whether the economy will continue the growth it has achieved under the business-friendlier policies of the Trump administration. And it remains to be seen whether the public employee unions will survive the Janus decision. Who knows if Brad Pitt still runs on Dunkin’? What we do know is that this organization will continue the mission of communicating, educating and advocating on behalf of Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owners. You only need to look within the pages of this magazine to know we have our eye on the ball.