It may be a cliché, but running a company comes down to the people who do the work on a daily basis. While people provide the spark that makes companies successful, the human element often brings with it a source of complexity and sometimes one of surprise.

During its regular meetings, the American Bakers Association (ABA)’s Human Resources (HR) committee regularly discusses many topics that are normally talked about behind closed doors such as working with labor unions or establishing succession plans for family businesses. However, many all-too-public, front-burner issues such as health care reform will likely impact employees as well as businesses for the foreseeable future.

As chair of ABA’s HR Committee, John Wagner knows companies are dealing with a full agenda of complex issues and a laundry list of questions that face both large and small businesses on a daily basis.

Sharing experiences, networking and problem solving are always listed as the top reasons for attending HR Committee meetings. This interview with Mr. Wagner, a 34-year veteran at Kroger who now serves as vice-president of labor relations for the Cincinnati, OH-based company, is part of an exclusive series by Baking & Snack about how ABA’s key committees affect its members’ bottom lines and why more bakers should become more involved. For further information, visit

Baking & Snack: ABA’s HR Committee is involved in a wide range of labor issues. What will be the top challenges in 2012?

John Wagner: The Top 3 issues for us are 1) staying on top of and finding ways to lessen the impact of new regulations and rulings from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB); 2) keeping up with regulations stemming from the Affordable Care Act, also known as health care reform; and 3) creating effective recruitment and retention programs within the baking industry.

Why should bakers be involved in the HR Committee, and how might their companies benefit?

The committee keeps participating bakers abreast of new regulations and sets the baking industry’s policy priorities on a number of issues. If a company does not have an active participant on the committee, the likelihood increases that it will find itself out of the loop regarding changes to the way they must operate their HR and labor relations programs.

In addition, if a company is not actively engaged in the committee and helping to set ABA’s position, the overall effectiveness of our message is weakened. The more bakers we have participating in our committee meetings, the stronger our message will be on Capitol Hill.

The HR Committee has two distinct types of members: those involved in traditional human resources issues and those involved in labor relations. How do you address their needs?

The HR Committee has worked well with this dynamic for many years now. While many committee members are specialists in either labor relations or human resources, there are also many members who do both. To appeal to each committee member, ABA works closely with the committee to create interesting agendas for each meeting. This means some presentations focus specifically on new benefit trends, appealing more to the HR specialist, while other presentations focus on issues brought before NLRB, which may appeal more to the labor relations professionals on the committee.

The committee is able to find common ground when it comes to talent management, recruitment and retention, which are key issues for us in 2012. In addition, many of the HR specialists enjoy learning more about what is happening in the labor relations world.

How is the committee working on pension issues?

The committee acts as a data download opportunity for many of our members — an opportunity to stay informed on this issue. A number of member companies have been active in past reform efforts, and with the Pension Protection Act of 2006 sun-setting in 2014, many bakers are now engaged in advising Congress on the new law before the current one expires.

What are the issues concerning health care reform?

The new health care law dramatically expanded coverage but does very little to control costs. The immediate concern revolves around the new costs these reforms will bring with them. For example, bakers are already paying more to cover adult children still living at home.

With new regulations coming online in 2014 that mandate a certain level of coverage for all employees, companies must decide whether it would be more cost-effective to either offer insurance or pay the exchange fee.

In addition, a lot of uncertainty exists about just what the new health care law will mean. Many outstanding questions have yet to be resolved, and until these questions are answered, many bakers will be unsure of how to proceed and what they may eventually offer in their benefit plans. The committee will continue to focus on the direct costs each member could incur in the coming months and years.

How does the committee help family bakeries develop succession plans?

The HR Committee plans to focus on this issue by bringing in experts in succession planning, recruitment and retention for the foreseeable future to help the committee create a general game plan for the baking industry to adopt as best practices — or at the very least give each company the necessary tools to build out a succession plan that best fits its needs.

The committee plans to continue this discussion at the 2012 summer meeting set for July 15-17 in Chicago, IL.

Finally, what issues would you like to address when you make a congressional visit to Washington, DC, in 2012?

ABA has been working with Congress to provide appropriate oversight for the US Department of Labor and NLRB. Both federal agencies play a critical role in enforcing regulations that impact the industry. In addition, ABA has supported congressional efforts to slow down a decisively pro-union NLRB agenda, including the agency’s public support of the proposed Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act.

Moreover, ABA will continue to work with Congress and like-minded coalitions to ensure that the industry has a voice in labor-related issues.