While the TREAD Act dominated government-related news for tire dealers in 2002, there were plenty of other events involving the federal government that also affected dealers directly or indirectly.
Perhaps the most dramatic of these was the 11-day lockout of West Coast dockworkers in early fall. President Bush invoked the Taft-Hartley Act Oct. 8, initiating an 80-day ``cooling off'' period to bring labor and management back to the negotiating table.
A tentative agreement Nov. 24 promised to end the disruption of shipments of tires and other goods arriving at 29 West Coast ports from Seattle to San Diego. But the backlog of shipments still hadn't been cleared after six weeks, creating a major problem in filling dealers' orders from tire companies dependent on Far East shipments, such as Falken Tire Corp. and Toyo Tire (U.S.A.) Corp.
Meanwhile in Washington, independent auto repair shops continued their fight to get guarantees of access to diagnostic and repair information, tools and training from auto manufacturers.
For most of the year, independent garages placed their hopes on the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act, on which a Senate subcommittee held a hearing July 30. The bill was designed to require auto makers to provide repair shops with the same repair and diagnostic information on late-model vehicles that they give to new car dealers-at a reasonable price.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. and chairman of the subcommittee at the time of the hearing, urged vehicle manufacturers and the aftermarket to work out their differences, but he added the subcommittee would take up the bill if no agreement could be reached.
Two months later, the Automotive Service Association announced an agreement with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and executives representing 35 different automobile makes.
In this pact, the vehicle makers promised to provide the repair and diagnostic information in an affordable, reasonably accessible way by Aug. 31, 2003.
Other aftermarket groups, such as the Tire Industry Association and the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality, said that because the ASA agreement contained no enforcement mechanism, the Right to Repair Act was still needed. The ASA, however, said it would work tirelessly to make sure the agreement worked and added that the subcommittee still is ready to act on the bill if necessary.
One bill that had considerable tire dealer support but little impetus in Congress was the Class Action Fairness Act of 2001, which was designed to move national class-action lawsuits into federal courts and prevent plaintiffs' attorneys from seizing the lion's share of jury awards.
On the other hand, the tire industry was pleased that the Senate Appropriations Committee in July squelched a back-door attempt to add a controversial ergonomics provision to a Labor Department Appropriations bill.
The amendment would have required the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a new standard on workplace repetitive stress injuries within two years of the bill's passage.
Tire manufacturers and dealers were encouraged by the Bush administration's ergonomics proposals issued April 5. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao promised to make all ergonomics rules task- and industry-specific, and to offer specialized training, information and targeted training grants to industry.
In November, OSHA and the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy announced they would work together to inform small businesses of the new ergonomics guidelines.
The next month, Secretary Chao named a 15-member advisory committee to help devise a federal ergonomics program.
Another Bush administration initiative that pleased tire dealers was its support of Association Health Plans, which would allow trade and industry associations to pool their members to bargain with health care organizations and insurers for benefits. AHPs will help tire dealers lower their insurance costs and beat the further cost of state benefit mandates, TIA said.