Government Relations & Public Policy
Exclusive: Q&A with Rep. Bobby Rush

During a busy week in which a U.S. House Committee introduced legislation to fix joint employer, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL.) sat down with IFA President and CEO Robert Cresanti, CFE, for an exclusive interview about his support of small business, apprenticeship programs, and the impact of franchising on local communities.

By Robert Cresanti, CFE
Cresanti: Congressman, you are a champion of the franchising community and IFA wants to thank you for your leadership. Our members and readers would love to know, what sparked your interest in franchising?

Rep. Rush: I’m a firm believer in ownership, specifically independent small business ownership. Owning a franchise allows an entrepreneur the ability to hire and train skilled staff. More importantly, franchises create jobs. As you know, the majority of franchises hire locally and decrease unemployment rates up to half in its surrounding neighborhood. It is an offshoot to also creating wealth and stability. 


Cresanti: Is it true you that you almost owned a Dunkin’ Donuts before you came to Congress?
Rep. Rush: Yes, in the 1980s when I served as an alderman in Chicago, I noticed older gentlemen sought a place to gather to discuss life and politics. They always had a cup of coffee. I asked a group of my close friends and relatives if they had an interest in a Dunkin Donuts franchise. At the time, it only cost 25,000. I had vision to transform our community and provide for our aging population. I knew exactly where I wanted to open the Dunkin Donuts. Fast forward to 2017, there is now a Dunkin Donuts at the exact location I envisioned.


Cresanti: How does your unique experience representing Chicago’s 1st District shape your views about the impact of small business, and specifically the franchise business model, on local communities and the national economy?
Rep. Rush: The Great Migrations from 1910 to 1960 brought hundreds of thousands of blacks from the South to Chicago, where they became an urban population. They created churches, community organizations, important businesses, music and literature. African Americans of all classes built a community on the South Side and West Sides of Chicago. Chicago has a history of many entrepreneurs and small business owners from Ebony/Jet magazines, to hair products Afro Sheen, banks and even food franchises. The mentality to own and create jobs for community prosperity always existed. That same spirit stays with us and expanded to include dry cleaning businesses, dental offices, bakeries and much more. The small business model continues to serve family ties as they can be pass onto to future generations.


Cresanti: The debate over joint employer is the most important public policy debate facing our members. I want to express our association’s utmost gratitude for your signature on the Democratic letter to the National Labor Relations Board. Do you think there is an opportunity for bipartisanship on a permanent solution to this issue?
Rep. Rush: Yes, I do believe that there is an opportunity for a bipartisan solution. Franchisees need clarity and predictability on this issue, especially for those franchisees who want to train their workers and do right by their employees.


Cresanti: What can our members do to help a bipartisan solution be achieved?
Rep. Rush: In honesty, I was not aware that there was an issue until I heard the stories of the small business owners who visited my office to share their experiences. So to answer your question, I believe that advocacy is key.


Cresanti: Workforce development programs, including apprenticeships and vocational training, are core to your cause. What makes these training programs and career opportunities so essential to a growing economy?
Rep. Rush: Apprenticeship programs must be relevant to market demands and tailored to industry needs that fulfill labor needs within our economy. There is vast gap in training where thousands of employers say they have jobs that they cannot fill because Americans lack those job skills. Apprenticeships fill the labor gaps by providing specialty training for jobs that do not require a degree. When people learn a trade, they can provide for their family and grow the economy.


Cresanti: What lessons could be applied to franchising from the bipartisan workforce development legislation in the Energy and Commerce Committee?
Rep. Rush: I have always committed myself to being a voice for underrepresented groups of people who do not have opportunity or access to resources and training. The key is understanding that everyone can agree on the essential need for a skilled workforce. Proper training allows anyone to survive where the price of the universities outpaces a person’s income. It is important to have trade and apprenticeship programs. If you learn a trade you franchise that idea.


Cresanti: As an ordained minister who works within your community, what is your perspective on the importance of providing jobs that offer a career path to young people?
Rep. Rush: First, I love being around young people because I like to stay hip to what’s going on and affecting them. I have a chant those goes like this: There’s nothing like the power of the youth, because of the power of the youth don’t stop. In my role as minister, my task is to feed the needs of the people. The need now is for jobs because we are at a crossroads with the violence in the city of Chicago. I have seen first-hand the unemployment level with young people in my district. So many young people lack job opportunities and it’s because of the skills gap. Workforce development programs provide stability and jobs, and when people are working, there is less stress and hopelessness, which all leads to less violence. Apprenticeships are a solution.


Cresanti: What has your military experience taught you about the necessity to give returning veterans opportunities in the workforce?
Rep. Rush: Order, organization and teamwork are all skills I learned in the military that have aided me in my life’s pursuits. Veterans are immediately employable because they obtain the right training and knowledge as former servicemen and women.


Robert Cresanti, CFE, is the President and CEO of the International Franchise Association.