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Taking a Stand

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Throughout 2011, the Automotive Service Association (ASA) tracked nearly 1,400 federal and state legislative items related to the collision repair industry.

The organization’s Washington, D.C., representative, Bob Redding, worked daily with shop operators spanning the country to address issues concerning repair facility licensing, parts patenting, safety inspections, environmental regulations and many other industry topics. Since the recession, Redding says, introductions of policy-related bills—those that don’t call for government spending—have spiked. The automotive industry’s many sectors, often perceived as ripe for reform, have been easy targets for lawmakers. 

Redding says a largely decentralized collision repair industry, which is split into too many organizations to perform as efficiently as it could, makes taking action to block or guide new bills a challenge. That makes the need for involvement from industry professionals greater than ever, he says. 

“We need boots on the ground, volunteers, active and organized to either stop [these bills] or make sure that whatever passes is something that works for consumers and repairers,” Redding says. 

Industry representation makes a huge difference when it comes to making real legislative progress. FenderBender talked to three shop operators who understand this, and have embraced the opportunity to act for their industry. They share their motivations, obstacles they’ve overcome, and why the collision repair industry needs to build an army of outspoken professionals. 


*Stories below as told to Jake Weyer

Joe Lubrano has run J&E Auto Body, a small, independent shop in Clark, N.J., for 38 years and served on numerous ASA committees. He’s been a staunch industry activist since the state’s first push to license shops in the mid-1970s. He still pens his own legislative petitions—the latest seeks to close loopholes in a state aftermarket parts law—and he makes regular state capitol appearances.

I remember it like it was yesterday, getting involved in the licensing procedure back when it first came out in the ‘70s. We all drove down to Trenton to this big meeting hall and the meeting hall was full. There were people out in the hallways. It was the biggest industry turnout I have ever seen in Trenton.

That’s when they were first thinking about licensing the body shops. It was something brand new. That’s what made everyone go out in full force because it was the unknown. They were going to try and license us, and what were the ramifications going to be? We had buses going down to Trenton that day and it was really a full day.  …

What got me out there was I saw that so much had to be done, otherwise we were just going to be swept under the carpet both politically in Trenton and through the power of the insurance industry putting pressure on the industry. …

That was when I was just starting out and I figured I better listen and learn before opening my mouth. …

The actual licensing bill that we have in place now [came out of that]. Of course we’ve changed it and modified it through the years through the associations and it’s different than it was originally. …

What I really think [showing up] did, it made the legislature see that we were not going to sit on our laurels and not speak about something that is going to affect our lives in such a substantial manner. I think they finally took notice of us. …

The deeper I got into it, I learned how much had to be done to improve the industry and how little help you have in getting it done. I would still say the same thing today: People are more apt to complain about their problems than trying to do something about their problems. We could do so much if this industry would finally get together. They have to understand that yes, we can make a change, but that change is only going to be made if we get together as one full unified voice. …

Unfortunately, the industry today is so complacent, I guess bewildered, disgusted, that they think there isn’t any hope and they’ve taken more of a backseat now than ever before. But I’m never going to say never. I’m never going to back out 100 percent. I’ll always be there. Unfortunately you get burnt out after a while and when you feel that, you have to back out and make room for more youth and energy. …

The biggest thing is you can’t just give up hope. You have to be there and you have to always push forward because if you don’t you’ll just get steamrolled over. A perfect example, the biggest thing we ever talk about is the labor rate. We’re going four or five years now with the same rate. Unless we finally say enough is enough, why should they raise it if they can get it done cheaper?

We’ve made inroads, but I don’t think we’ve really done enough … I know that’s because of limited numbers of people backing the association and standing up and voicing their opinions. … This industry needs to understand that legislators only understand one thing: The voting public. We can make a difference if we can show that we have one solid voice. I really believe that. I’ve always believed that and I still do.


Dennis Sterwerf owns Fairfield Auto and Truck Service, a collision repair facility for passenger vehicles and heavy trucks in Fairfield, Ohio. He helped establish and run the state’s shop registration program, which is commonly looked to as the premier model for the rest of the country. He is a former ASA board member and is still an active representative of the industry in legislative matters.

We put up a truck booth [in the 1980s]. We were the first ones in our area to have a truck booth of any size. When we erected it, we checked all the permits, making sure if we needed a pollution permit or not. [The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)] told us we were on the service side, not the manufacturing side, so we were OK just the way we were. …

About six years after that they came on in and said that we needed to obtain pollution permits, or they could fine us or close our doors. So we obtained the permits, but that’s where it got out of whack. They didn’t do equal enforcement, they did just enough to obtain the numbers that they wanted to obtain. … We went to low-VOC paints, but our costs of that material escalated considerably and that put us out of whack competing against anybody in our area. …

That’s when I started to get involved and said if I have to do this, then every other shop owner needs to do this. Why should I have to compete? … I had to do something to stay alive. 
We were members of the Automotive Service Association. We started that back in ’83, ’84. … I got involved on the ASA Ohio Legislative Committee, participated in that. We were always trying to get a bill passed to license or register shops. We were hoping for licensing, but could never obtain that here in Ohio. We pushed to get registration passed [in the Ohio House and Senate in 1997] and I worked diligently on that, testified several times. …

It established the Ohio Board of Motor Vehicle Collision Repair (CRB). It is a state agency made up of five collision members, one mechanical and one person representing the public. It registers all the independent collision shops in the state of Ohio. 

It makes sure you have everything you need for business. You have to have your ID numbers, state sales tax numbers, workers comp if you have any employees, you have to be compliant with all the EPA regulations and zoning and you have to have garage keepers insurance. …

When the Ohio and U.S. EPA came out with the hazardous waste number and pollution permits for paint booths, parts washers, etc., and were not consistent on enforcing the same rules throughout the state, it created a very un-level playing field of competition for the compliant to compete against the noncompliant. The compliant shops see a 25–30-percent higher cost of doing business than the noncompliant. The mission of the CRB is to level the playing field of competition and assure the customer that he or she has their vehicle in a legitimate repair facility. …

I served on the CRB for eight years, with the first five as chairman. We had to create rules, hold hearings on the rules, hire an executive director, rent the office space … .

The U.S. and state EPA tells us the automotive industry is the most polluting industry in the country. They are looking at it from the time it is on the drawing board through the manufacturing process through the time [a vehicle] is in use and when it is being scrapped. With that said, it has a title allowing them to track it easily, so when they look at industries to clean up, they look at our industry and apply regulations to accomplish their needs. 

The burden on small businesses like the mechanical and collision repair industry is overwhelming to the small business owner. The mechanical and the collision repairers must learn and be active in the political process or we will be forced out of business.


Ron Nagy operates Nagy’s Collision Specialists, a six-shop company in Northeast Ohio. Nagy is chairman of the ASA’s national board of directors and has long been an advocate for the industry. He was involved in the ASA’s efforts to help establish national auto refinishing regulation (the EPA’s 6H rule) and the organization’s hosting of EPA representatives at numerous meetings. He also led the establishment of ASA’s Political Action Committee and organized industry fly-ins to Washington, D.C. 

I actually got involved [in the late 1990s] at the state level first because I sat on the state [ASA] board and Ohio has their own lobbyist and I kind of got involved that way. The reason being is as a businessman, I could negotiate quite a bit with the paint companies, with all that. But the one thing I really didn’t ever have the strength or growth or power to negotiate was legislation. I couldn’t go out and afford my own lobbyist or anything like that.Photo by Stephanie Krell

I started getting involved at the state level and I could see how it benefitted a businessman. … I don’t want government in my business. I want them out. So a lot of times it’s chilling some of the bills or chilling some of the regulations that come up. In fact, I think that is more of my job description—trying to keep [government] out and trying to kill some of the things.

But at the state level, I also saw the advantage of seeing what’s around the corner, what’s coming down the pike. It affects me, everything from taxes to new regulations. That’s when I really figured out that, boy, this is as valuable as any other area of my business. 

So as I got involved nationally with ASA, it was just a natural fit and I moved to the next level, getting involved federally. … That’s where I learned even more how important it is to continually keep an eye on legislation, on bills, what’s going to hurt us, and really keeping an open mind. You might hear that this legislation is going to give us this or that, but when you start dissecting it, it really would hurt business. …

Now there are also some good ones out there that we do want to get voted in. It’s a broad range. …

The one thing that I really enjoy is the fly-in, which we do about every year. I do go hear the legislators, especially around election time, when they come around and have their town hall meetings. I think it’s important that they know you personally and if you do ever need help, you can call and they’ll recognize your name.

The federal representative in our area actually came from a dealership, so I have some ties with him. He’s somebody that if I have an issue, I know he’ll recognize Ron Nagy. …

You find out that when you go see these guys, they’re just like us. They’re trying to do the best they can, but they really don’t know what you want if you don’t tell them. If I have one pet peeve about people it’s when they blame somebody for not following through on something, but they never really told them what they wanted. How does a representative or anyone know what your business needs are if you don’t meet with them and share with them your concerns?

I think it’s a misconception that it takes all this time, when in a lot of cases the most time consuming thing is when Bob Redding might call and need your opinion on something. … A ten-minute phone call and that’s really it.

If you talk to just about any legislator, they’ll tell you they need your input, because they need to know what the feet on the street really believe and need. …

You know, the 6H ruling, that was probably one of our biggest accomplishments because we had so much to do with the way it came out and it would scare me to death—if we wouldn’t have gotten involved in that—what it would have looked like. The biggest thing is I don’t think one thing would have changed with the restrictions. We’d have people painting out in parking lots. …

When you’re sharing with [legislators] your business concerns, they really document that and I would challenge shop owners to get involved with the next fly-in. It’s so valuable to know the people at that level.

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