The fight not only pits new ways against old, it also reveals modern-day ruptures in the labor market.
March 15 marked the first anniversary of the National Limousine Association. Based in Washington, D.C., the NLA has gathered a considerable amount of support from operators around the country and has begun to achieve some of the initial goals set by the organization’s founders. The association is entering its second year with a continued determination to demonstrate the benefits it can offer to an emerging industry.
Cyndy Littlefield was named Executive Director of the NLA last September and has served as a link between the association and the outside world. Littlefield’s daily contacts include limousine operators, legislators, government workers, coachbuilders, the news media, regional limousine associations, the association’s legal counsel, and others from within and without the limousine industry.
Before assuming her position with the NLA, Littlefield operated her own political consulting firm, Littlefield and Associates. The company was involved with lobbying on national issues and also carried out public relations campaigns. Prior to that, Littlefield was the Executive Director of the Washington Workshops Foundation, a program in which thousands of people visit the Capitol and are familiarized with the federal government process. Her confidence in the American political system, and knowledge of how the government functions, is the basis of her belief that the NLA can make a significant contribution to the limousine industry.
In an interview with Limousine & Chauffeur, Littlefield outlined some of the accomplishments of the NLA during its first year and described the challenges lying ahead for the association in the coming year.
Limousine & Chauffeur: How is the NLA doing after its first year?
Littlefield: The organization is becoming very strong. Naturally, there are growing pains in the early years of any national association, and there are so many goals that there are, literally, not enough hours in the day.
Our intention, first and foremost, is to watch out for the limousine industry on the national and state levels. We are involved with a number of state issues such as the liquor situation in California. Last October 8, the Attorney General ruled that limousine operators should have a liquor license even though no such license exists. Two members of the State Assembly are introducing legislation that will hopefully remedy the problem.
The most serious national issue now is the rising cost of insurance and, in some states, the unavailability of it. We currently offer members an insurance package for liability and collision coverage.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What kind of savings is available through your program?
Littlefield: That varies depending on the part of the country, the size of the company, and how long they’ve been in business. Each person has their own formula. We have a broker who works with members.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Is it attractive enough that most members will take advantage of it?
Littlefield: I think so. Hopefully, it will become more attractive and, by the time this is printed, we will be able to offer a fifty state program for limousine owners. Two states have particular problems now...New York and New Jersey. In essence, limousine owners in these areas are unable to renew their current policies. There are also many smaller companies that cannot afford insurance and are running without any coverage whatsoever.
At this point in time, no carrier will go into the State of New Jersey. The Governor of New Jersey signed legislation last year putting a freeze on insurance premiums. Limousine owners welcomed this at the time but, at renewal time, insurance companies refused to go into the state because they couldn’t get sufficient profits.
1985 was the worst insurance year since the ‘Thirties, and we have found that the problem also affects the bus, ambulance, and trucking industries. It is a gigantic national problem and Congress is considering what to do. We are encouraging them, on behalf of the industry, to interceed in some equitable manner for the relief of companies across the country.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Has the NLA been involved with any of the issues so far with testimony, letters, or advice to local associations?
Littlefield: Yes, on many levels. We will be testifying before the National Governors Association on the insurance situation. They have specialized hearings on the matter in the next month or two. On Capitol Hill, we have requested to testify before committees in both the House and the Senate so they are aware of the problem.
There is another issue which initially pertains to coachbuilders, but which will affect the entire industry. The House passed the Tax Reform Act of 1985 (H.R. 3838). In this document, there are a couple of paragraphs known as the “gas guzzler tax.” This is a fee charged to the manufacturers of vehicles falling under certain mileage standards. It would be retroactive 1980, and would probably range between $200 and $500 per car depending on its mileage. This could lead to some very large assessments against coachbuilders which would, ultimately, be passed along to consumers. The industry has been hit hard enough by the insurance problem without facing substantially higher prices for new vehicles. We just sent out a political advisory letter to every coach- builder alerting them to the problem. If they want us to lobby on their behalf, we’ll form a special task force and take it from there. There is a possibility we can stop it in the Senate. It is currently sitting in the Finance Committee. Unfortunately, Congress is looking for any possible source of revenue and the climate is not good for trying to stop this to kind of tax.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What do you specifically mean by “lobbying?”
Littlefield: First of all, you need to understand your legislation, which we do. Then you have to look at the calendar and see when the legislation will be considered. Then you meet with members on that committee and try to develop political allies who agree that this section should be excluded from the Tax Reform Bill and will introduce corrective legislation. You have to spend a lot of time on Capitol Hill.
The Tax Reform Bill is a massive package. From the Finance Committee, it goes to the floor of the Senate where it will be voted on and, if passed, then it goes to the Conference Committee. This process must be constantly monitored. You’re on the phone, talking to staff members, developing new contacts, and urging NLA members to write to their representatives. We also plan to arrange meetings between coachbuilders and senators from states such as Missouri where there are several coachbuilders and where the possibility exists that companies will be put out of business and people will lose their jobs.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What are some of the NLA’s other goals for ‘86?
Littlefield: One is to encourage the public to continue using limousines. We’ve targeted different publications, such as the two magazines in the bridal industry, for some promotional publicity. The largest segment of the limousine industry is corporate and business accounts and we want limousines to be visible in magazines focusing on corporate travel and things of that nature. These are some constant issues.
Another thing we have accomplished is that the limousine industry will be a part of National Tourism Week this year. The Department of Commerce established National Tourism Week three years ago and every industry related to tourism prepares a packet of information which is issued to the news media around the world. This year it will be May 18-24. We are encouraging NLA members to publicize how they participate in the tourism industry during that week.
Another one of our goals is to serve as a clearinghouse for information and as a communicative tool. We have found that there are many limousine owners who are quite involved with local issues through their local associations. We get calls constantly on our 800 hotline from people wanting to familiarize us with issues and asking questions. They talk to Jennifer Balch, our Administrative Assistant, or myself.
Limousine & Chauffeur: As limousine operators become more organized and visible, isn’t it possible that legislators will target them for new regulations?
Littlefield: It is possible but, on the other hand, because we’re united, we will have a stronger voice to prohibit new regulations. It’s encouraging that this administration is trying to do away with regulations and we expect this philosophy to continue for the next three years.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What do you see as the general outlook for limousines in ’86?
Littlefield: I think it’s too early to tell. I think it’s a positive sign that there are so many new companies in the industry. On the other hand there are indications that increasing costs are forcing operators out of business. I honestly could not assess it, but I think this year could be better than ’85 if owners continue to collectively protect themselves. If they sit on the sidelines and hope for things to improve, they won’t. That includes the coachbuilders. I’ve talked to hundreds of operators and, given their interest in improving the industry, there’s no reason why ’86 can’t be better than ’85.
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