January 1, 2014
Among automotive recyclers, there are many ways, big and small, to contribute to the future of the industry and become empowered with ways to make a difference.
If you are considering skipping this article, you may believe it is for other people to read and act upon. Perhaps you think there is nothing YOU can do to make a real difference. But what if everyone felt that way? Without any involvement from individual auto recyclers, the industry you love, your livelihood, would collapse under harsh regulations and legislation passed without consideration of the important role that automotive recycling has for consumers, local communities, and the environment. Is that a desired outcome?
When thinking your participation won’t matter, consider then this quote: “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” – Howard Zinn.
There are ways, big and small, that you can create great relationships with elected officials on any level to protect and promote your business, your bottom line, and your right to operate. The more voices, the louder the message.
Here are different ways that you can get involved and make your voice count.
ARA Members Host U.S. Congress Visits
Four ARA member companies hosted Congressional visits at their facilities in 2013. Each one solidified the constituent relationship with the lawmaker and each one provided education and branding of what a professional automotive recycler provides to the community. All of the federal representatives who took part in the visits provided extremely positive feedback to ARA.
ARA Gold Seal member Kelly Roepke, President of Y-Yard Auto & Truck, Inc. of Effingham, Illinois hosted Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL) at her facility last year. Besides representing Roepke’s district, Rep. Shimkus is Chairman of the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee and is also co-Chairman of the House Recycling Caucus.
During his visit, Shimkus witnessed firsthand all aspects of professional automotive recycling, from viewing an online auction to the dismantling and crushing of a vehicle. “We had the privilege of hosting Rep. Shimkus at the Y-Yard,” says Roepke. “We gave him a tour of our facility and explained to him what we do as an automotive recycling center. We spoke in great detail with Congressman Shimkus about the alarming trends negatively affecting our industry and jeopardizing the safety of the end consumer.”
ARA staff, whom facilitated the visit, continue to work with the Congressman and his staff in Washington, D.C. to explore how Rep. Shimkus can best help the profession grow. “Congressman Shimkus was not very familiar with the massive operations and processes run by automotive recyclers,” says Roepke. “He was alarmed to learn about the lack of licensing required to purchase a salvage vehicle and the rising concern that many of these vehicles are resurfacing all across the nation in a rebuilt or repaired condition, but rarely disclosed accordingly.”
Rep. Shimkus also spent time with Roepke, her family, and representatives of ARA affiliated state chapter, the Auto & Truck Recyclers of Illinois, in Y-Yard’s conference room discussing the business and industry challenges and barriers. Roepke noted that, “the Congressman was particularly concerned as a parent to learn that end-of-life vehicles can end up back on the road if not handled by professional automotive recyclers.”
“I would like to encourage all members to extend an invitation to your local, state or national congressional leaders,” says Roepke. “Be sure to address state issues with your state representatives and national issues with your national leaders. You might be as surprised, as we were, that our legislative leaders know very little about our industry, what we do for a living and the positive impact we have on our environment.”
“It all starts with informing and educating! Our industry has grown and changed so much over the decades. It is our responsibility to reach out and inform,” Roepke says.
Another ARA member company had the privilege of hosting their representative at one of their 27 locations last year. Steve Levetan, Executive Vice President of Pull-A-Part, LLC, says of the visit to a Pull-A-Part in Nashville, Tennessee, “Not only did Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) have an opportunity to learn about our industry, and ‘what happens to all of those cars,’" he says, “she got to meet several of her constituents who are Pull-A-Part customers. Also, our employees got to meet their Congresswoman. Everyone left having learned something about recycling or about our governmental representation – the definition of ‘win-win.’”
One way ARA members can initiate a facility tour is to start the communication with their representatives on their home turf first on Capitol Hill. Once a relationship is established through visits to the Washington, DC office to meet with the representative and their staff, the more likelihood a site visit becomes a reality.
“For the past 10 years or so I’ve been attending the ARA Hill Days event,” says Eric Schulz of AAA Auto Salvage, Rosemount, Minnesota. “Taking the opportunity to meet with your representatives and grow those relationships each year helps to educate and guide the perceptions they may have of our industry. Visiting with Representative John Kline (R-MN2) at our facility solidified that relationship and made us the ‘go to’ experts on our industry that he can rely on when legislation comes up that may affect us.”
Facility tours also can open doors on Capitol Hill. ARA members, Joe and Steve Kosiski, hosted their Congressman this year as well and once again it was a very successful visit. U.S. Representative Lee Terry is Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, which has oversight of automotive safety issues. After his visit to Kosiski Auto Parts in Omaha, Nebraska, Rep Terry and his staff met with ARA staff in Washington to follow up and review policy areas discussed during the visit.
Hill Days Create Lasting Bonds
“In attending the well-organized ARA Hill Days to meet our representatives, we got the idea to do the same in Iowa on the state level,” says Mike Swift, co-owner of Trails End Auto and Truck Salvage, Inc. and current ARA Second Vice President. “We now have the Iowa Auto Recyclers (IAR) Hill Day and invite IAR members around the state to meet with their representatives to explain our industry to them. We invite the representatives and their staff for a meet-and-greet with coffee, juice, and donuts. We provide them a quick story on what we do, along with literature, and let them be on their way.”
As a follow-up, IAR takes it one step further. On the first day of the legislative session, explains Swift, a contingency from IAR visits the statehouse Rotunda to meet those that could not attend the breakfast. “Our goal is to introduce them to our IAR lobbyist and have a brief conversation to get communication started,” says Swift. “This opens the door for us and our lobbyist to call upon them again. We spend, as a group, the entire day meeting with representatives.” This grassroots effort makes a difference, says Swift. IAR is now acknowledged and recognized when they attend meetings at the state Capitol. “This didn’t happen overnight.”
Strengthen Congressional Support
The ARA is becoming increasingly active in creating a positive perception of the industry to legislators and regulators. “One of the pillars of the Association's Strategic Plan driving us forward over the next three years includes ‘worldwide recognition of professional automotive recyclers as the processor of ELVs,’” says Michael Wilson, ARA CEO. “It is imperative that legislative bodies on all levels understand this and consider it when passing legislation that impacts the industry. We welcome and invite all members to become active in this educational process. The ARA Government Affairs Committee, as well as the Executive Committee, are committed to empowering members on all levels with the necessary information, resources and staff support to make an impact.”
Swift concurs that industry associations are a valuable resource and act as key communicators to legislators regarding the impact of proposed regulation or legislation on the professional automotive recycling community. “I would say that in the past few years that I have been involved with the IAR, the one committee that does the most for the association is the Governmental Affairs committee,” says Swift. “The one thing that I have learned is that we need to speak to legislative professionals in their own language. We, as auto recyclers, can bring the passion about our industry and the hurdles we must cross, but you have to have people that can speak to legislators in their language. This is where your association’s governmental affairs team can help bridge the gap.”
Swift realizes that making a fuss over situations can damage relationships, not build them. “I get very upset at all of the regulations that we have to adhere to in our daily work life, and the fact that others get away with not following the rules,” says Swift. “I can get pretty animated, and the one thing I have learned is politicians don’t like to be yelled at. So, once again, this is where your support team comes in to calmly get the point across without the high emotions.”
Create Bonds with Representatives
Keep Informed. While you work at selling green recycled auto parts, organizations and people are engaged in the industry and can see things coming – good or bad – and can bring it to your attention. “If you don’t read what your state and national associations are sending out about what is happening, what could happen, and what has happened to affect your business, then you need to start today,” encourages Swift. “A lot of people take a lot of time, including many volunteers, to make sure our industry is not put in harm’s way of bad legislation.”
“ARA staff communicates regularly with our affiliated state associations regarding legislation that have the potential ripple effects across the country and within the industry,” says Jessica Thomas, ARA’s Director of State Government and Grassroots Affairs. “We have found in recent years that what happens in one state can easily roll into another state due to precedence. We want to avoid harmful legislation in any state from becoming law. It is vital that ARA members and state association members are aware of what is happening and reach out to their legislators to share the unique perspective they have as professional automotive recyclers.”
“Last year, we had a local scrap bill come through. We requested that catalytic convertors be added to it,” says Swift. “Some of our members were not happy about it, but it turned out to be a good thing because unlicensed operators now have to provide a photo I.D., a license plate number, and description of the type of scrap they are selling. This information can be used by law enforcement to stop metal theft. The bill, introduced by Iowa’s main electric provider because they were loosing millions of dollars on stolen copper, has been working well. At first it was only in effect in Des Moines; last year the state made this into law.”
Support Political Action Committee (PAC) Funds. ARA’s PAC Fund is making a difference on the behalf of members across the nation. PACs work at the state level, too. “One thing that has really helped IAR is the PAC fund,” says Swift. “The contribution that makes its way to a representative opens the door of access to them. It doesn’t mean that you get their support, but they do listen a little bit more to someone that has contributed to their cause.”
Invite Representatives to Events. “Over the years, we have invited representatives to our annual outings,” says Swift. “These are always good meetings away from the statehouse and they can see and hear about the things that auto recyclers are doing across the state. We also have them on our mailing list for our IAR Newsletter, a great success for us.”
Support the Leaders Reaching Out. The ARA has several key staff, Jessica Thomas, Delanne Bernier, Director of Policy and Political Affairs, and Betsy Beckwith, Director of Policy and External Affairs, making strides in all the different areas of the legislative arena. Active participation from the Governmental Affairs Committee, reading and responding to legislative action alerts, and simply voicing your concerns on what is happening helps the ARA stand up for you and your business. “We serve the membership,” says Bernier, “and member involvement is critical to changing perceptions and creating change on the Hill.”
“Furthermore,” says Swift, “I believe that if you are not sending e-mails, making phone calls, joining e-mail letters, joining the Facebook pages of your representatives – City, County, State, and National – you are not helping the auto recycling industry. It takes just a little effort, yet it really does go a long way. Being involved is not that hard.”
Just Do It
“Our elected representatives need to learn about the auto recycling industry. If something is upsetting you, let them know – the only way they know is if you tell them,” says Swift. “For those who don’t think this is important, if you don’t tell them than WHO will? If not you, than who?”
ARA’s Hill Days is June 17-20, 2014, at the Hyatt Regency, in Washington, DC. For more information on attending, please contact ARA staff.
If you would like assistance in setting up a facility tour with your Congressman, or are eligible and interested in making a contribution to the ARA PAC, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The more on-site visits or contributions to the fund, the more your message is reinforced in the halls of Congress.
Caryn Smith is the editor of Automotive Recycling magazine.