Mike Smith of Cornerstone Government Affairs, the NLA’s lobbying firm, and NLA President Gary Buffo outline the global trade group’s legislative agenda during a general session at LCT-NLA Show East on Nov. 10, 2015.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Gearing up for the 2016 legislative battle to fight transportation network companies (TNCs), the National Limousine Association
on Nov. 10 outlined its tactics and strategies to keep the pressure on legislators. The national trade group held a semi-annual Legislative Update for members during LCT-NLA Show East.
Indicating that the industry’s arguments against TNCs are at a “tipping point moving in our favor,” NLA President Gary Buffo explained that the next four to six months will be critical to see if changes will occur to level the playing field. Buffo, along with Mike Smith of Cornerstone Government Affairs, the NLA’s lobbying firm, presented attendees with an overview of the critical issues the industry will face especially in a Presidential election year.
“The tide is turning because of our consistent messaging,” said Smith, noting that NLA lobbying initiatives coupled with a public relations campaign is getting the association’s message out to Congress and agencies such as the Department of Labor (DOL). It raises the issue that TNCs such as Uber classify drivers as independent contractors versus employees, thereby escaping providing basic employee benefits to drivers, as well as escaping paying corporate taxes.
However, Smith cautioned that Uber will not knuckle-under to pressure to change its business practices or willingly play by the standard rules and regulations that govern the private transportation industry. To emphasize his point, he noted that Uber recently has set up shop in a 72,000-square-foot office in Washington with a handful of employees to ratchet up its presence in the nation’s capital. “They are making that investment to keep their edge portraying themselves as a great innovator, and they have been very successful in doing that,” Smith said. “They also know that they have to keep federal and state legislators silent.” He added that a Fortune magazine article surmised that if Uber had to pay drivers as employees, its costs would shoot up some $4.1 billion.
Although Smith noted that many legislators in Washington treat Uber as a “technology darling,” more politicians are hearing the negative aspects of TNCs, and DOL officials are getting the message that TNCs are like the sweat shops of the 19th Century.
For example, Smith pointed out that 43 states have various bills involving TNCs, and urged members to keep up the pressure at the municipal and state levels in the coming year. He mentioned the traction the industry has gained from the “Ride Responsibly” campaign, and members sticking to the duty-of-care issues regarding passengers, drivers and the public. These include:
- Safety: Focus on passengers and the public.
- Insurance: Personal insurance may not cover all TNC claims; public and passengers may end up footing the bill.
- Deception: Uber and Lyft claim NOT to be transportation companies.
- Drivers’ Employment Status: Employee or contractor?
Regarding the legislative agenda for 2016, Smith said the NLA will maintain pressure on the DOL as well as Capitol Hill regarding TNCs, fight for the industry in the funding of the Highway Bill, and monitor and counter any anti-industry regulations that arise in the new legislative session.