WASHINGTON -- Dealerships filed about 1,550 notices of their intent to seek arbitration as of yesterday's midnight deadline, setting the stage for proceedings to begin with the case-by-case selection of arbitrators.
As many as 50 more submissions may be counted by the end of the week, an American Arbitration Association official said today. It's also possible that some duplicate filings could lower the total a bit, said association Senior Vice President India Johnson.
The tentative tally accounts for well over half the 2,789 rejected General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group dealerships eligible to seek reinstatement through neutral arbitration under legislation signed by President Barack Obama last month.
“People are motivated not just by their financial losses, but by their personal and emotional losses as well,” said Tammy Darvish, co-leader of the Committee to Restore Dealer Rights, a rejected dealer group. “I spoke with an 81-year-old dealer last week who said he could die in peace knowing he would have the chance to tell his story.”
The filings, which cost dealerships $1,625 apiece, signal the dealers' intent but do not obligate them to actually pursue arbitration. They can obtain a 50 percent refund if they withdraw their submission in time.
The arbitration association, which is overseeing the process, has started assembling lists of dozens of potential arbitrators in each state. It has started sending the lists to the two parties in particular cases.
The two sides ultimately must agree on a single arbitrator after reviewing arbitrators' backgrounds, expertise, potential conflicts of interest and availability, Johnson said.
If they can't agree, the association will try to pick an arbitrator in each case by the end of February, she said. Arbitrators' reinstatement decisions are due by June.
As for the final tally of dealer filings, Johnson said in an interview today that it is likely to be completed by Friday. It should include submissions not part of the 1,550 count, including filings with GM and Chrysler and entries sent by mail, she said.
GM and Chrysler plan to release the number of their respective dealership filings after the arbitration association figures are finalized.
The 1,550 filings exceed by more than 50 percent the number predicted as recently as a week ago by the arbitration association, dealer lawyers and another leader of the Committee to Restore Dealer Rights.
“For many of these dealers it's not even about the money," said Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, who sponsored legislation last summer to reverse dealership terminations. "It's about jobs, fairness, decency and a message to government that you can't just rob someone of their life's work."