Avis Decision Not A Death Blow; No Card Check-Mate Yet

LCT Staff
Posted on May 6, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the latest Avis victory at the New York-New Jersey Port Authority and more than 40 senators arrayed against the Employee Free Choice Act, two of the three key issues threatening the chauffeured transportation industry appear to be pulling back from the brink.

A third issue — federal proposals to regulate the business travel of corporate recipients of the Troubled Asset Relief Program — inflicts the most damage on operators as the business travel sector radically contracts from recession and politically-driven populist rage.

The Port Authority decision to prohibit the unregulated WeDriveU program at key New York and New Jersey area airports, seaports, and bus terminals stymies Avis in the nexus of the chauffeured transportation industry, namely the New York and northern New Jersey market areas.

Meanwhile, despite the recent defection of Sen. Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania to the Democratic party, he says he will remain opposed to the union-driven Employee Free Choice Act. Along with reservations from more moderate Democratic Senators from Republican-leaning states, the EFCA is left drifting in the water for now.

Had Avis WeDriveU prevailed so far and the card-check legislation succeeded, chauffeured transportation would be suffering two of its most crippling economic blows in addition to the recession and the anti-business travel climate. Avis would be emboldened in its business plan to undercut operators with cheaper and lower quality service while employees would be deprived of a secret ballot procedure to vote on proposals to unionize.

On the positive side, such a nightmarish perfect storm has not materialized; on the negative side, nothing can be safely taken off the table just yet. Avis WeDriveU still operates in many cities and union card-check legislation could still be resuscitated with a compromise version, or in its original version with enough twisted arm support.

So the fact that two of the three issues identified by industry leaders as key threats to operators have receded somewhat for now is no excuse to ease up for NLA President Ron Sorci.

“By no stretch of imagination are we feeling ecstatic,” Sorci said of the card-check legislation. “We have to look at it from every angle.”

Sorci said the NLA hopes that Sen. Spector remains opposed to the EFCA, whether as a Democrat or Republican.

“We have concerns over this potential act being passed,” Sorci said.

“Even if it’s not in its present form, we have concerns of what a modified version would look like.”

Sorci discussed all three issues at a Limousine Association of Houston luncheon on April 28, and updated members on NLA legislative strategies and priorities.

The NLA has drafted a letter for its members that can be personalized and sent to Congressional representatives and Senators expressing business opposition to union card check legislation.

On the business travel issue, the NLA last month joined the U.S. Travel Association in its effort to campaign against the Taxpayer Protection and Corporate Responsibility Act, introduced by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., which would prevent any business that received money under the Troubled Asset Relief Program from paying for travel, meetings, gatherings, parties or conventions.

On a fourth key industry issue, an amendment to the RIDE Act, the NLA plans to make it the focus of its annual Day On the Hill lobbying effort scheduled for Tuesday, June 9. NLA lobbyist Louie Perry of Cornerstone Government Affairs recently met with staff members of Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., about ways to reintroduce the RIDE Act amendment into the U.S. Senate.

The amendment to the 2002 Real Interstate Driver’s Equity Act would do three key things for chauffeured transportation operators:

• Clarifies that states and political subdivisions (including publicly owned airports) cannot charge any fees “with respect to” a vehicle that is providing pre-arranged interstate ground transportation service. This clarification is required because some airports charge a fee for each for-hire vehicle, regardless of whether the vehicle is carrying passengers on an interstate trip. For this reason, the present “on account of” language needs to be revised.

• Adds a new provision, prohibiting any transportation terminal (principally airports) that receives federal funding from charging a special fee (other than a fee charged to the general public) for access to or use of the terminal or its facilities by any (interstate or intra-state) provider of pre-arranged ground transportation that is otherwise duly licensed by its “home” state.

• These provisions do not prohibit airports and other transportation terminals from contracting for preferential arrangements, including “close-in” or exclusive on-site concessions, or from providing special lots for limousines and sedans for which the company or driver may voluntarily pay a fee.

Source: Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine

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