Saturday, September 19, 2020

For more than a decade, Cornerstone Government Affairs has been the National Limousine Association’s tireless advocate in Washington, D.C., with Principal and Director Louie Perry and Senior Vice President Todd Webster tapping into their impressive backgrounds to effectively lobby for the best interests of the association, members, and industry. The added value of Senior Associate Dylan Mooers, who works in D.C. to schedule the in-person legislative meetings that comprise the beating heart of the annual Day on the Hill fly-in event, puts operators face-to-face with their elected officials in an effort to help Capitol Hill understand the key pain points of luxury chauffeured ground transportation.

The trio from Cornerstone recently spoke with Chauffeur Driven about the event’s origins, its benefits, and proposed focus on its 2020 incarnation, scheduled for June 9-10. Read on to learn just how closely they work with the NLA—and how much they do on their own—to help the industry be heard in our nation’s capital.

Louie Perry Louie Perry

Chauffeur Driven: What’s in the works for the NLA’s 2020 Day on the Hill, and how will it be discussed at the CD/NLA Show in Vegas?
Louie Perry: We’re really heavily focused on TNC workers’ misclassification and what might be the response to the California gig worker law that went into effect—AB5—and now that New York’s contemplating a similar action, it’s the next thing that we’ve been lobbying for. We’re also focused on two limousine safety bills, one that we support and one that we generally support but want to make changes to. The one that we support is an effort by Congressman Chris Smith [R-N.J.] and Senator Ben Cardin [D-Md.] that would place new safety requirements on TNCs. And then the one that we’d like to tweak is a bill that the New York delegation has introduced in response to the New York limousine crash—we support the safety requirements, but we don’t support retroactively applying them to older vehicles that have already been purchased based upon utilization rates that might go away if they didn’t meet the new safety requirements of the bill. We also have concerns about some changes to CDL regulations contemplated in their original draft, but we are working with the N.Y. delegation to sort those issues out.

Todd will be addressing the crowd at the NLA membership meeting in Las Vegas, where he’ll talk about these issues. He will also be giving an update on Congress: Impeachment will be on everyone’s minds and we’re in an election year, and so there’s a lot going on in D.C. that will impact our membership. Dylan and Todd are working together right now on a presentation for Vegas that will explore all of those issues.

Todd Webster: These safety bills would have a direct impact on all NLA members, so it’s important that before Congress passes any law that’s going to impact the chauffeured car industry, they hear from our industry so they get it right and there’s no surprises hampering or harming our NLA members.

CD: How long has Cornerstone been involved with the NLA?
LP: We started working for NLA back in 2008. They had a state lobbyist from New Jersey but wanted to expand their federal presence. Richard Kane, who was the president of NLA at the time, had known [Cornerstone President and Managing Director] Geoff Gonella, so Richard and past NLA President Jeff Greene interviewed then hired Cornerstone; we have been working for NLA ever since and really love the work. When we first started, it was much more focused on a lot of transportation regulatory issues and airport fees.

Todd Webster Todd Webster

CD: What was the genesis behind Day on the Hill?
LP: NLA didn’t really have a structured Day on the Hill before we started working together: They would come to D.C. on an as-needed basis when they had issues. When we started working for them, we instituted a once-a-year fly-in so that we didn’t just see members of Congress when we had a crisis; instead, they then became familiar with NLA and the association’s issues, and also could both remember and have some continuity with their constituents who were our members.

TW: It’s incredibly valuable and important for actual citizens, that is, the NLA members, to come to Washington and talk to their Congressmen, their Senators, those offices’ staff. That kind of direct constituent input is very persuasive to members of Congress—for them to hear from actual constituents is very powerful. Different industries, organizations, and nonprofits do these fly-ins because they work, because it’s effective to get in front of your member of Congress with your issue. I think Louie, Dylan, and I do a good job of representing the NLA’s position and getting in front of the right members of Congress, but there’s nothing as persuasive to a Senator or Congressperson as hearing from their constituents about an issue affecting jobs and employment.

In terms of the overall fly-in, it’s a very important part of the lobbying that we do. It’s even more powerful if you happen to be from a state or a district represented by a relevant member of a committee or a relevant member of the leadership in the House or the Senate.

Dylan Mooers Dylan Mooers

CD: What are your roles in Day on the Hill? How do you serve the NLA beyond that event?

LP: The process starts in January by picking a date that works for the NLA Board, leadership, and staff, and is based on the Congressional schedule, which they usually don’t announce until December. In the early part of the year, we coordinate what the message is going to be and who’s coming. By the NLA annual meeting, we’re inviting and recruiting people to come, reminding them of the date, and foreshadowing the issues that we want to work on.

We do all of the meeting schedules from here, based on feedback from Kyle [Hammerschmidt, NLA Executive Director] about who’s coming and who they represent. We get the guidance about the issues we’ll talk about from the NLA Legislative Committee, which Brett Barenholtz and Robert Alexander are currently the co-chairs of, and some input from the Board as well. Once they settle on those issues, we create a “leave-behind” document, or a policy document, that we’ll take with us to Capitol Hill and talk to members about: That is coordinated through the NLA president and the Legislative Committee.

Specific to NLA, a month before Day on the Hill, we start coordinating meeting requests and we tell those offices what we’re going to talk about when we get there. Dylan arranges all the scheduled meetings. We typically divide them by state; if some states only have a couple of meetings, we’ll combine multiple states together. And then we put groups together, Dylan creates a schedule, and we try to have someone accompany all those different groups to Capitol Hill. We almost always write some sort of follow-up document with a specific ask that we send to Day on the Hill participants. We urge follow-ups with all of the offices they met with, hopefully in furtherance of some of our legislative goals, which this year I anticipate to be the limo safety bills and our continuing work on TNCs’ worker misclassification issues.

A week after the fly-in, we’re already following up and continue to follow up: Dylan, Todd, and I are here in D.C. full-time, so every week we’re talking with Capitol Hill, year-round. Recently, for example, Todd worked with Senator Cardin’s office, I followed up with Congressman Smith’s office, and we did some further follow-up with [Congressman Paul] Tonko’s office on the New York crash bill that they’re working on. Dylan has attended a number of events at the House Education & Labor Committee on worker misclassification just to stay in contact and to keep us represented on those issues that are important to NLA members. We’ve filed four or five different comment letters to the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) related to everything from CDLs to other regulation of black-car companies, so that never ends with us.

CD: How closely do the NLA and Cornerstone work together on Day on the Hill?
LP: We coordinate very closely with the NLA all year long. Cornerstone and the NLA’s president, executive director, and Legislative Committee talk back and forth a lot about the policies we’re going to arrive at on behalf of the NLA. We don’t set them ourselves but we certainly have a role in it; but those NLA leaders give a lot of their free time helping set the policies and positions for the association.

TW: We have had the great fortune of maintaining a good, collaborative, close relationship with the NLA and its leadership year after year—we value that and cherish it and try to earn it every day.

CD: How do you divide Cornerstone’s obligations to Day on the Hill?
LP: We do try to split it up. Dylan handles a lot of the coordination of our schedules and is tasked with keeping us on task. He also handles a lot of the research to make sure that we write the correct one-pagers, talking points, and briefing materials for Day on the Hill. He handles 100-percent of all the meeting scheduling and identifying what Congressional district an NLA member is located in so that we ask for a meeting with the correct offices. We like to think of the three of us as indispensably the same, exchanging and dividing duties on a general basis and handling issues for NLA together.

TW: Each of us brings our own strengths, individual backgrounds, and different sets of relationships so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s sort of the Cornerstone philosophy: Everyone pitches in and helps where their greatest strengths are, which translates to providing NLA in particular and all of our clients in general with a high level of client service and helping them achieve their goals in Washington.

Dylan Mooers: The three of us do most of the planning for Day on the Hill but on the actual day of, we have 10 or 12 people from Cornerstone staffing the Hill meetings and taking people around all day long. The group expands as needed and we pull people in who know either an office or an issue well or are from the state. It’s a true team effort.

CD: How has the event changed over the years?
TW: I think it gets better every year. And I think it particularly improves when the industry is under assault or when there is a common challenge to really focus their minds and energy: At this point, it’s on this limo regulation bill that is winding its way through Congress.

LP: When we first started, we didn’t really have a lot of different channels to reach the membership. Essentially, we started with [Limousine Association of New Jersey Executive Director] Patty Nelson making some calls and we used the NLA Directory to reach operators in certain key states. Now, through social media, PR outreach, and Chauffeur Driven, you can really promote things like Day on the Hill better. I’m hoping that these increased number of channels to reach the membership gets the word out about the benefit of participating in Day on the Hill.

We do want quality over quantity. Where NLA has decent membership, we want to make sure there’s a good contingent from those states: I think of Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky, New York, California, Massachusetts, all states where we have a big membership that’s well-distributed—we want to make sure they have a presence at Day on the Hill. I never expect that we’re going to get someone from all 50 states; if we have someone from the key 30 states, that’s best.

CD: How do you either persuade or at least educate those who don’t see the value in hiring lobbyists or having an industry-specific legislative event?
TW: There’s no time like the present, and one way is helping them see what this new limo regulation bill would do and how that would have a direct impact on their bottom line. For years, we were battling with TNCs and talking to the Department of Labor to force the application of Fair Labor Standards Act, talking to members of Congress, and pressing the issue. States are often the laboratories of democracy, and California’s TNC regulation bill [AB5], which appears to be good for the industry and people, is a result of years of our members’ efforts, the NLA’s efforts, and our advocacy. Members of Congress are taking note and seeing there’s an un-level playing field.

LP: When it comes to Day on the Hill, I think you’re always going to have people, unfortunately, who don’t think participation in Washington is of value, or who have a jaded view of the process. But I do think it’s fair to say that people who have come back realize that whatever negative perceptions they had about D.C. and participating in the legislative process were wrong and that they ARE having an impact: There is no way someone agrees to come twice if they don’t think it’s worth their time. Every industry in the world has a federal presence, and Congress makes laws affecting all of them. I think it’s incumbent upon our industry to be a participant in the legislative process or else laws will be made right on top of them.

One of the biggest, most successful fights we’ve had was that the Department of Labor (DOL) at one point initiated an effort to make us pay overtime wages on tip income. It only really affected our industry: It wasn’t a big issue for other industries, but for us, it was huge because tips are typically 20 percent or more, so you had to pay 20 percent more overtime on all of your billing. Over the course of the year, it wound up being a significant amount of money and it devalued the purpose of the tip to begin with. A tip is a gratuity added to a bill for good service. And so it sort of took away the incentive to strive for exceptional service if you would have to pay overtime for that. The industry was able to work with the Hill and with DOL and get that directive reversed. If we had not participated, that would have been to our detriment.   [CD0220]