The Auto Body Labor Rate Bill was introduced into the State Legislature at the beginning of the 2007-2008 Legislative Session. Initial responses from both rank-and-file and leadership were extremely encouraging, so much so, that AASP launched a statewide grassroots effort to connect hundreds of shop owners, managers, technicians, and administrative personnel to their individual legislators.
As the legislative process moved into the closing budget negotiations in mid-2008, leaders in the State Senate noted that the House of Representatives had not yet moved the bill forward. Looking to send a signal to the House that it wished to see the bill passed into law, the Senate, with unanimity, lightly edited the original bill and passed it in its version of the State Budget. This forced action on the bill by the Conference Committee and, unfortunately, in the final moments of negotiation, an agreement to send the bill forward for study by a Special Commission, was all that the first-time bill could muster as a result. While there was terrible disappointment within the collision repair industry, we worked hard to present our views to the Special Commission through two statewide hearings in Worcester and Boston.
Hundreds of collision industry professionals provided overflow audiences for both hearings and testimony was coordinated by AASP of nearly two dozen shop owners and industry leaders to tell the story as to why this bill needed to be passed into law.
Buoyed by the level of support we garnered in only the first introduction of the bill, AASP refilled the legislation, as requested by the Executive Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (of course, we would have filed it anyway) at the beginning of the 2009-2010 Legislative Session. As expected, the auto insurance industry response to the encouragement by the OCABR report to bring Massachusetts auto body labor rates more in line with the national average was lukewarm, at best.
Privately, officials from a few carriers went to some lengths to tell us that so long as “the other guys” would raise their rates, they would do the same. Of course, collision industry veterans know that when insurance companies talk about “the other guys,” it is usually a pretext to a real whopper of a fib – as in, “the other guys don’t charge for that.” Well, during the six months the OCABR suggested that the insurers would need to adjust their labor rates accordingly, the end result was a rise in the average rate of EIGHT CENTS, and not the several dollars envisioned (and requested) in the final report.
Needless to say, our supporters at the State House were not happy and momentum was being built for passage of the bill by our continued grassroots efforts. Many legislators made our bill one of their priorities after pushing for items vital to their own districts, and made their support for our bill very clear amongst their colleagues and the leadership of both chambers. With more than a month to go in the session, the Auto Body Labor Rate Bill was passed unanimously in the Massachusetts Senate and moved to the House of Representatives for its approval.
As the session wound down to its final days, however, it was clear that the 800-pound gorilla in the House was the expanded gambling legislation that had not yet reached a resolution. It never did. Along with several other industries looking to improve business conditions for their members during the difficult economic times, our bill was not moved to the floor in time for a vote on the final day, and another great effort by collision repair professionals went for naught. So great was the disappointment of some legislators, that several of them personally called (a couple even visited) shop owners and managers to apologize for the inaction of the House on our bill.
With your help and cooperation, perhaps the thousands of families across Massachusetts who depend on the fairness of labor rates paid by insurance companies for the repair of damaged motor vehicles, will again participate in the economic mainstream of our state and our nation. For far too long, the intrusive mistakes of our state government in the late 80s, the continued negligence of a succession of insurance commissioners, and the “see-no-evil, hear-no-evil” stance of insurance companies that have finally, and publicly, acknowledged the suppression of labor rates, have combined to deliver a near knockout punch to a vital and highly skilled industry. It is about time that economic fairness is returned to a group of people who have borne far more of their share of economic humiliation. Please help us pass the Auto Body Labor Rate Bill into law right now!!