You Have a Voice on Industry Issues - Now Use It

If you're in the truck equipment industry, you have the power to alter its course. You have a pipeline to the nation's capital. You have Michael Kastner, the NTEA's government relations director, along with your senators and representatives.

Don't imagine the situation like this: I am a small manufacturer in a northern Minnesota county that is more like Canada than the United States. Imagine it like this: I can influence change.

"We're here in Washington working on your behalf, but we're more effective if you participate and contact senators when we ask," Kastner told a convention audience. "Get involved in the legislative process. Look at it as one more part of your business. These are things that affect you."

Kastner is based in the NTEA's Washington DC office, where he actively lobbies on behalf of the association and tries to educate officials about the problems faced by member companies. How effective is the NTEA? In 1996, it earned the Government Relations Award of Excellence from the American Society of Association Executives in the category of "overall program management at the federal regulatory level."

Kastner works on influencing legislation, regulations and White House policy, primarily through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Kastner believes the NHTSA has become much more responsive to the NTEA's concerns over the past few years because regulations recently have given consideration to multi-stage vehicle manufacturers.

Being Realistic About Success Kastner said the NTEA has tried to focus its effort away from the "really big victories" and toward the pieces of legislation that have a good chance to be put into effect.

Two of them recently passed in the House of Representatives and are awaiting a vote in the Senate: a product liability statute of repose (HR 2005) and one dealing with small businesses (HR2366).

The first would limit lawsuits against a company for defective equipment to the first 18 years after it was manufactured. Kastner said this would be particularly beneficial to companies that produce long-lasting equipment like dump bodies.

The second, which affects companies with 25 or fewer employees and less than $5 million in annual sales, would put a cap on economic damages for pain and suffering by eliminating liability for everything but the "real danger" (hospital fees). Currently, in a multi-defendant judgment, if XYZ Co is the only defendant that is still operating or financially solvent, it must assume the responsibility of those that are not.

The NTEA tries to influence legislation through TREQPAC (Truck Equipment Political Action Committee), which is designed to pool contributions from distributors and manufacturers who want to support candidates who represent the ideals of the truck body and equipment industry. The NTEA assesses an individual's position on issues, his chances for election and, if an incumbent, his current committee assignments.

Voice Opinion by Writing Kastner said the best way to voice an opinion to an elected official is to write. "I think a lot of people feel if they send a letter, it gets tossed in a pile somewhere," Kastner said. "If you're a business in a congressional district and you're writing about a specific issue, it actually does get read and it does make a difference."

Kastner advised NTEA members to write only when an issue is significant. Otherwise, it's a "cry wolf" situation and the impact is diluted.

Tips for letter-writing: - Lists facts and figures: Describe your business, what you build and who buys your product. List the number of employees, average payroll, annual sales, products and supplies you buy, taxes, employee benefits, and cost burdens imposed by federal, state, and local governments.

- Keep the letter to one page. Use your own words. Identify the subject in the first paragraph and write about only that issue. Explain how the legislation will affect your business, particularly if it might cause a loss of jobs.

- Ask if you can count on the legislator's support. Find out how the legislator voted on the issue and then write back, either thanking him for his support or expressing disappointment.

To correspond with Kastner, write (1350 New York Ave NW, Suite 800, Washington DC 20005), call (202-628-2010), or e-mail ([email protected]).

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