GROCERY OFFICIALS LOBBY FOR REFORM IN D.C.

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- Tax and regulatory reform and labor law overhaul topped the agenda of grocery industry officials in lobbying trips to Capitol Hill.In their annual Washington events, members of Food Distributors International, Falls Church, Va., and the National Grocers Association, Reston, Va., met with congressmen in two days of visits last month.Besides tax and labor matters, other issues presented

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- Tax and regulatory reform and labor law overhaul topped the agenda of grocery industry officials in lobbying trips to Capitol Hill.

In their annual Washington events, members of Food Distributors International, Falls Church, Va., and the National Grocers Association, Reston, Va., met with congressmen in two days of visits last month.

Besides tax and labor matters, other issues presented to legislators included paper-baler law reform, deficit reduction, legal reform, passing a balanced budget amendment, Occupational Safety and Health Administration reform and letting charities solicit on business property without having to allow union picketing.

Executives from C&S Wholesale Grocers, Brattleboro, Vt., zeroed in on the Team Act, which would revamp labor law. Opposed by organized labor, the measure is staunchly backed by the grocery industry because it would permit the creation of employee-management workplace teams to address safety and workplace issues. Supported by congressional Republicans, the measure was deemed an offset to a proposed 90-cent minimum wage hike.

C&S has employed the "team" system since 1988, said Kimberly T.M. Keyes, assistant treasurer. Under the plan, self-managed warehouse teams of two to five workers are formed and are responsible for picking, wrapping, checking and loading a customer's order into a truck. They are paid according to each pallet or piece moved, and annual salaries range from $25,000 to $40,000. Part of an overall program aimed at showing employees how their efforts are tied to the company's success, the teams also are designed for workers to review such matters as product damages and safety.

"The team concept allows C&S to grow," said Bill Hamlin, senior vice president, chief financial officer and secretary. "They are critical to the way we operate. We would not want legislation advocating teams to be defeated."

Robert M. Ling Jr., vice president and general counsel at Certified Grocers of California, Los Angeles, said a proposed reform of the estate tax was critical to the wholesaler, a family-owned business, as well as to many of its family-owned customers.

Under the proposal, estate taxes would be trimmed for family-owned businesses and be eliminated for small family-owned operations. Currently, the tax can be as high as 55%, and it is due upon the death of a key family member. The measure would remove the estate tax on the first $1.5 million of the business value and reduce by half taxes on assets above $1.5 million. "This would help keep businesses within families," Ling said.

Another important legislative item for Certified is regulatory reform, Ling added. "Whether it's reform of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or transportation, it's critically important to our being able to operate efficiently," he said.