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TIA shelves checkoff program for now

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The Tire Industry Association (TIA) has shelved its proposed checkoff program following a lack of support from the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA).

The RMA recently announced it had decided not to support the program, which could prevent it from ever being implemented.

"We know we can’t go to Capitol Hill without the tire industry being unified," says Roy Littlefield, TIA’s executive vice president.

"We’re not going to challenge the RMA. We’re going to try to work with them.

"This might be an opportunity to come together on issues and see if we can make some headway." Topics of discussion mentioned by Littlefield include annual safety inspections in all the states, tire aging and tire pressure monitoring systems.

"We’re not going to give up on the checkoff program…. In time, maybe we can convince the industry this is a good idea."

RMA CEO and President Don Shea cited a number of reasons for withholding support, including the following:

1. Constitutionality questions. Attorneys hired by the RMA had major concerns about the constitutionality of checkoff programs in general, based on three separate circuit court decisions invalidating checkoff programs for the beef, pork and milk industries.

Nory Miller, an independent counsel hired by RMA, wrote in a memorandum that the proposed checkoff program "appears highly unlikely to withstand constitutional challenge under the First Amendment. It’s focus on communicating safety reminders to consumers and instructional information to employees does not place it in a stronger position, as a constitutional matter, than checkoff programs promulgating generic advertising."

(William Reynolds, a senior professor at the University of Maryland Law School hired by TIA, concluded it would be safe to proceed with the proposal.)

2. Lack of dealer involvement. In the wake of its questions and concerns, the RMA requested that TIA survey tire retailers -- some non-TIA members -- about the proposal.

At the time, TIA said it did not want to involve its membership before the proposal was better defined; in hindsight, Littlefield admits the association could have done a better job of explaining the program to its members.

TIA's proposed public relations, or checkoff program, was part of the association's two-year-old Strategic Plan. TIA officials originally shared some of the program's details with the press at the International Tire Expo in Las Vegas in November 2002.

The checkoff program called for tire dealers buying direct from the manufacturer to pay an additional fee per passenger and light truck tire. The money collected would have been used for public relations, educational and other industry-related activities.

The fund would have been controlled by an "alliance" of people representing the many segments of the industry.

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