Unless Congress acts, chain-restaurant workers and local entrepreneurs, among many others, will be losing jobs and opportunities. The cause is an Obama-era labor rule known as the “joint employer standard.”

Ben Gitis of the American Action Forum was absolutely on target in his op-ed today explaining the harm that this rule causes. As I wrote here on the same subject in June, the Obama rule applies burdensome labor laws and liabilities directly even to businesses who exert only indirect oversight of workers covered by those laws.

The Obama changes were seen as an attempt to encourage workers to unionize — a step that unions sought because they are rapidly losing members and relevance. But the odds that employees of local franchises will unionize anyway are slim, rule or no rule. It's just not practical for a temporary burger joint employee in Texas, for example, to find common cause, common conditions, or common interests with burger joint employees in New York.

Without delving too deeply again into how this hurts the economy (both columns linked above do so at some length), the key takeaway was provided by Gitis:

“Since the NLRB introduced the broadened joint employer standard, growth in hotel franchise jobs has nearly halted, causing job growth in the entire hotel industry to slow. And there is no reason this effect is limited to hotel franchises. In 2017, franchises employed 8.6 million workers, representing 7 percent of private sector payroll workers. The broadened joint employer standard could ultimately cost 1.7 million franchise jobs over the next decade.”

As Gitis explains, even if though National Labor Relations Board wants to revert to the old, more sensible standard, the required, formal rule-making process could take two years, dampening an entire economic sector in the meantime.

The question is, what can be done about it?

This is why we have a Congress. The good news is that the House, in bipartisan fashion, fairly easily passed a bill this year, the Save Local Business Act by Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., which would reinstate the pre-Obama rule.

The Senate, though, unable easily to round up the 60 votes needed to overcome a potential filibuster, dithered. The bill never even came close to receiving floor consideration.

That should not, however, be the end of the story. Congressional leaders, especially working in a House-Senate “conference committee,” can add a small, discrete policy change — known on Capitol Hill as a policy “rider” — to an appropriations bill. If the bill is seen as “must pass” piece of legislation, and if the bill contains significant agreements on much bigger issues, then senators who object to the small labor-law provision aren’t likely to buck their party’s leadership to filibuster the whole bill just for the sake of this one provision.

Congress right now is wrangling over a huge spending bill to fund seven of the 12 usual parts of the discretionary budget for 2019. It’s true that the Labor Department already is one of the five whose funding has been signed into law — but no rule completely prohibits a policy rider for an already-funded department to be added to bills financing other parts of government.

Congressional leaders often slip such riders into major spending bills at the last moment. In this case, it would be perfectly legitimate, because the National Labor Relations Board already signaled it would change the rule and was unable to do so only because of a technicality. The Obama joint-employer rule always contradicted what most analysts interpreted as Congress’ original intent, anyway — so adding a policy rider here wouldn’t be a sneak attack but a just reassertion of Congress’ authority.

Therefore, as a simple state to jump-start a struggling part of the American economy, congressional leaders should attach the Save Local Business Act to the major spending bill now being negotiated. To do otherwise, as Gitis wrote, “undermines a massive and highly valuable portion of the economy.”