Members of ISRI’s Pittsburgh and Mid-Atlantic chapters had a unique opportunity during their Pennsylvania Day on the Hill May 25 in Harrisburg, Pa. Unable to go inside the Pennsylvania Capitol due to COVID-19 restrictions, members were able to host a cocktail party for lawmakers nearby. About 60 state representatives and senators attended the event, making it an even greater success than the most recent Day on the Hill in 2019.
During a typical year, ISRI members arrive in Harrisburg armed with talking points on key issues. They spend the day in meetings with their state representatives, telling stories and making any necessary asks. In the evening, members have a reception for legislators at advocacy firm Greenlee Partners, whose offices are near the Pennsylvania Capitol.
“This year, because of COVID-19, there was no option to conduct in-the-Capitol advocacy, so our members did what we all do—they adapted,” says Danielle Waterfield, ISRI’s chief policy officer and assistant general counsel. Members leased space at a restaurant near the statehouse with an outdoor courtyard for cocktails. “It was a beautiful night in Harrisburg,” recalls Ben Abrams, past president of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter, and president and CEO of Consolidated Scrap Resources. “[The lawmakers] appreciated getting together, having good food and drink, and mingling with us.”
Mixing in a relaxed setting with representatives is a crucial part of advocacy efforts. Michael Krentzman, legislative chair of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter and co-president and CEO of Joe Krentzman & Son, recalls the importance of the cocktail parties in previous years. “They were beautifully catered and informal; you’d have a chance to talk to the people you met earlier that day,” he says. “And now they’re not on the other side of the desk.”
“State legislators are like your neighbors,” Waterfield explains. “It’s important to engage and talk to them.” ISRI’s Pennsylvania members created space for their neighbors to feel relaxed and welcome. “It’s good to introduce yourself in a casual, friendly setting when there’s no ask,” explains Angelo Medico, Mid-Atlantic Chapter president and purchasing manager at Louis Cohen & Son. “It’s a meet-and-greet where our objective is to introduce ourselves, let them know who we are, and tell them about ISRI and our chapters.” Meeting policymakers without asking for anything created an even more comfortable atmosphere. It’s an opportunity for legislators to learn about the industry and allow the members to serve as subject matter experts. “They get more familiar with each of us, they realize that we have a strong voice, and they can come to us if they have questions about recycling or bills that may affect our industry,” says Andrew Lincoln, past president of ISRI’s Pittsburgh chapter and vice president of Lincoln Recycling.
At the cocktail party, lawmakers approached Medico and Krentzman wondering if there were any requests or concerns. “It’s a great feeling to say we have no ask; we just wanted to introduce ourselves and let you know who we are and what we do,” Medico says. Krentzman shares those feelings. “I explained we’re just trying to make friends, introduce ourselves, and show you we’re good people,” he says. Legislators are used to different groups bringing a variety of issues to their attention so having conversations just for the sake of introductions and future relationships presents a pleasant change. “I think it helps when we don’t have an ask. [Legislators] come away smiling; they’re always being put on the spot,” Lincoln says.
Many legislators don’t how recycling works, so events like Day on the Hill are ideal occasions for recyclers to describe the industry. “We try to paint a picture as accurately as possible,” Medico says. “We’re a major industry that’s run sometimes by big corporations and sometimes by families, but at the end of the day, ISRI members are the ones who do it right.” Waterfield agrees members should tell lawmakers their stories and talk about what recyclers do.
Members have found that after cocktail parties or similar events, legislators are interested in touring recycling yards. In Pennsylvania, Medico or the lobbyists at Greenlee help schedule these tours. “We’ll find a constituent in [a lawmaker’s] district and arrange for them to meet the business owner and take a tour, which they appreciate because as legislation comes through [policymakers] have a better picture in their mind of the nuts and bolts of the operations,” Medico says. Krentzman agrees tours help legislators get a better sense of the recycling business. “Our business isn’t the easiest to understand,” he says. “It’s a commodity business, so the things we sell change price. A lot of legislators don’t know what we really do, so when you bring them [on tours] and show them around, it’s so eye-opening.”
When considering the importance of engaging in meet-and-greets with legislators, Medico recalls a sign at Greenlee: “‘When you need a friend, it’s too late to make a friend’; it really resonated with me,” he says. Members followed that philosophy at this year’s Day on the Hill. Without needing anything from legislators, recyclers could focus on building relationships that would help them in the future. “Should anything come down the pipe that has unintended ill consequences to our industry, then we’ve already made a friend,” Medico explains. Lincoln shares those sentiments. “When you don’t have an ask, be proactive so [legislators] know who you are,” he recommends. “When an issue does arise, they’re more likely to answer the phone and speak with you.”
Though each state is different, ISRI’s Pennsylvania members advise other chapters to hold casual and fun events with legislators. “They’re coming to see you, and you have direct access to them,” Krentzman notes. He offers several recommendations on running a successful event. “Do it close to the capital, when they’re coming out of session; do it nicely; and do it genuinely,” he says. For Abrams, it’s all about the grassroots efforts. “Go up and shake their hands; have conversations about what’s going on in their district and what’s going on in your business; compare notes; make that connection,” he says. “If you don’t do any of that, you’re going to find out one day that when you need [lawmakers] they don’t know who you are.”
Waterfield applauds the unique way ISRI’s Pennsylvania members engaged in advocacy. “They took it seriously and didn’t let the chance slip by,” she says. “They made sure legislators heard their stories and still saw the essential role they play.”
Photo courtesy of Aaron Plitt.