NEW YORK – The National Restaurant Association said this morning it is joining the growing opposition to the proposed $7.2 billion antitrust settlement with Visa and MasterCard over fees for credit card transactions, another major setback to the endangered deal.

The group, which represents the $600 billion U.S. restaurant industry, is the last of six major trade groups that are named plaintiffs in the antitrust action to oppose the historic deal, which must be approved a federal judge weighing opposition to the settlement.

The restaurant trade group said its main concern is that the settlement would prohibit all merchants that use Visa and MasterCard - whether they decide to opt in or opt out of the settlement - from filing future lawsuits over interchange issues. "There is strong concern that the proposed settlement agreement will not achieve the litigation's most critical goal - to fundamentally change a broken marketplace in which swipe fees are set," Dawn Sweeney, president of the restaurant lobby group, said in a statement.

While the group has been pushing for reforms that would bring transparency to the interchange system and help lower costs for restaurants, the proposed settlement accomplishes neither, it said.

Under the proposed deal, the credit card companies and banks have offered to pay $6 billion and to temporarily reduce swipe fees, also known as interchange fees, to save stores about $1.2 billion over an eight-month period.

While the settlement has won approval from grocers like Kroger Co and Safeway Inc, it is being fought by powerful groups like the National Retail Federation, retail giants WalMart and Target, coffee chain Starbucks Corp and a variety of other industry groups, including the Retail Industry Leaders Association, National Association of Convenience Stores, National Cooperative Grocers Association, National Grocers Association, National Community Pharmacists Association, the Texas Food & Fuel Association, the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America.

The settlement will have enormous impacts on credit unions, which earn an estimated $3 billion a year in interchange fees on their credit cards and own stock in Visa and MasterCard. Lower interchange fees charged by Visa and MasterCard translate into less revenue for credit unions. In addition, credit unions and banks will fund the huge payment by Visa, which is converting a number of credit union- and bank-owned Class B Visa shares to fund its share of the settlement.

Opponents of the settlement say the $7.2 billion is a small amount of compensation for the billions of dollars they pay each year in interchange fees. Mallory Duncan, general counsel for the retail group, told the Credit Union Journal last week he believes damages could be many times the $7 billion figure if the case goes to court.

 

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