Toyota's new lobbyist strategy: factory workers

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Alesia Murdoch has spent 11 years building transmissions at the Toyota Motor Corp. plant in Buffalo, W.Va. Yesterday, she got a new job: lobbyist.

Murdoch was one of 23 U.S. employees of the Toyota City, Japan-based carmaker to visit lawmakers’ offices in advance of congressional hearings into millions of vehicles recalled for sudden acceleration.

She said she and her fellow employees wanted to remind lawmakers that while Toyota is Japanese-owned, many of the workers affected by the recalls and inquiries are American.

“We stand behind our products,” she said between stops. “We may have had a little setback, but we’re going to come out stronger.”

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, has recalled almost 8 million vehicles on five continents to repair defects linked to unintended acceleration. At least three U.S. congressional committees plan hearings into whether the recalls were handled properly by Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Failing to address the issues more swiftly has led to global criticism, a member of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s cabinet said Wednesday. “This might not have resulted in Japan-bashing and Toyota-bashing” with quicker action, Mizuho Fukushima, the minister in charge of consumer affairs, said in an interview in Tokyo.

The automaker sent people from eight states with company plants to Washington and covered their expenses, said Martha Voss, a company spokeswoman. The visits were timed to be a day ahead of the first hearing, which was scheduled for Wednesday and then postponed to Feb. 24 because of a snowstorm. Some employees said they hoped to return then.

The message was “how important we think our product is and how much we back our product,” said Joe Allen of Dunbar, W.Va., who also works in Toyota’s Buffalo, W.Va., plant.

Congress is “really hearing from local people,” said Amy Lindsey, who works in the company’s factory in Princeton, Ind. “They’re not hearing from management.”

Toyota employs 33,400 people in the U.S. and accounts for an additional 163,700 jobs at suppliers and dealers, according to the company’s Web site.

One of those suppliers, Kariya, Japan-based Toyota Boshoku Corp., employs 7,000 U.S. workers, according to the company’s Web site.

Mitzi Lucas of Stanford, Ky., an assistant quality manager at Toyota Boshoku’s plant in Harrodsburg, Ky., said the recall controversy is being “blown way out of proportion.” Employees drive Toyotas, including some on the recall list, and “I wouldn’t be afraid to drive one,” she said.

“Congress needs to look at all the jobs Toyota supplies and look at all the suppliers as well,” she said. “When the economy was bad, we kept right on working even when others didn’t.”

The crisis-spawned calls on lawmakers follow a surge in spending that has made Toyota one of the auto industry’s biggest lobbyists in Washington.

In 1999, the company spent $685,684 on Washington lobbying, Senate disclosure documents show. Last year, Toyota spent $5.2 million, more than seven times the 1999 amount, and passed one of the big three U.S. automakers, Chrysler Group LLC, for the first time.

“Toyota learned the lobbying game swiftly and ahead of most other non-U.S. carmakers,” said Rogan Kersh, associate dean of New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. “They’ve spent resources strategically, hired the right kinds of people and have been able at least to gain a hearing when they have questions or concerns about legislation or proposed regulations.”

The company bolstered its Washington team last week by hiring the Glover Park Group, a public relations, crisis management and lobbying firm headed by several former officials in Democratic President Bill Clinton’s administration.

The $5.2 million spent last year by Toyota to influence Congress and federal agencies exceeded the $3.8 million spent by Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler. Toyota also outspent Japan-based automakers Nissan Motor Co. of Yokohama and Honda Motor Co. of Tokyo.

“We have a lot of work to do to make sure we are effectively communicating what the company and our dealers are doing regarding the recalls, and emphasize that the company is doing everything it can to fix any safety issues as quickly as possible,” Voss said.

Detroit-based GM, the second-biggest automaker, spent $8.6 million last year, and Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford Motor Co. spent $7 million. Toyota is accelerating its spending at a faster clip, with an increase of almost 660 percent since 1999, compared with GM’s 48 percent and Ford’s 67 percent.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Socialized medicine works great for white people in Scandanavia. It works well in Costa Rica for a population that is partly white and partly mestizo. I don't really see Obamacare as something aimed against whites. I think that is a Republican canard designed to elicit support from white people for republican candidates who don't care about them any more than democrats care about the non-whites they pander to with their phony maneuvers. But what is different between Costa Rica nd the Scandanavian nations on one hand and the US on the other? SIZE. Maybe the US is just too damn big. Maybe it just needs to be divided into smaller self governing pieces like when the old Holy Roman Empire was dismantled. Maybe we are always trying the same set of solutions for different kinds of people as if we were all the same. Oh-- I know-- that is liberal dogma, that we are all the same. Which is the most idiotic American notion going right back to the propaganda of 1776. All men are different and their differences are myriad and that which is different is not equal. The state which pretends men are all the same is going to force men to be the same. That is what America does here, that is what we do in our stupid overseas wars, that is how we destroy true diversity and true difference, and we are all as different groups of folks, feeling the pains of how capitalism is grinding us down into equally insignificant proletarian microconsumers with no other identity whether we like it or not. And the Marxists had this much right about the War of Independence: it was fundamentally a war of capitalist against feudal systems. America has been about big money since day one and whatever gets in the way is crushed. Health care is just another market and Obamacare, to the extent that it Rationalizes and makes more uniform a market which should actually be really different in nature and delivery from place to place-- well that will serve the interests of the biggest capitalist stakeholders in health care which is not Walmart for Gosh Sakes it is the INSURANCE INDUSTRY. CUI BONO Obamacare? The insurance industry. So republicans drop the delusion pro capitalist scales from your eyes this has almost nothing to do with race or "socialism" it has to do mostly with what the INSURANCE INDUSTRY wants to have happen in order to make their lives and profits easier.

  2. Read the article - the reason they can't justify staying is they have too many medicare/medicaid patients and the re-imbursements for transporting these patient is so low.

  3. I would not vote for Bayh if he did run. I also wouldn't vote for Pence. My guess is that Bayh does not have the stomach to oppose persons on the far left or far right. Also, outside of capitalizing on his time as U. S. Senator (and his wife's time as a board member to several companies) I don't know if he is willing to fight for anything. If people who claim to be in the middle walk away from fights with the right and left wing, what are we left with? Extremes. It's probably best for Bayh if he does not have the stomach for the fight but the result is no middle ground.

  4. JK - I meant that the results don't ring true. I also questioned the 10-year-old study because so much in the "health care system" has changed since the study was made. Moreover, it was hard to get to any overall conclusion or observation with the article. But....don't be defensive given my comments; I still think you do the best job of any journalist in the area shedding light and insight on important health care issues.

  5. Probably a good idea he doesn't run. I for one do not want someone who lives in VIRGINIA to be the governor. He gave it some thought, but he likes Virginia too much. What a name I cannot say on this site! The way these people think and operate amuses me.