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TRSA Members Seek Solutions at DC Fly In

Amid partisan disputes in Congress on issues ranging from U.S. policy toward Syria to budget and debt-ceiling agreements, six TRSA members came to Capitol Hill on Sept. 12 to promote bipartisan solutions aimed at preserving the industry’s status as a significant job creator and contributor to the U.S. economy.

“Our outreach efforts on a range of issues are aimed at reaching workable compromises that will allow the industry to keep growing and, thereby, contributing to the communities they serve from coast to coast,” said TRSA President & CEO Joseph Ricci. “During a series of meetings on Thursday, our members showed how they’re working in a bipartisan fashion to craft workable solutions.”

A prime example of this spirit of cooperation came during a meeting between TRSA members and Luke Albee, chief of staff to Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). One issue discussed at the meeting focused on concerns among laundry operators about unfair competition from Goodwill Industries laundries. The private agency is winning commercial contracts, while paying disabled workers sub-minimum wages. TRSA Vice President of Government Relations Kevin Schwalb noted that Goodwill recently opened a $14 million laundry facility in Miami and that in recent years it has ramped up its encroachment on the private sector. The tax exemptions that allow Goodwill to do this are included in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). These provisions were designed to facilitate training, not permanent employment, Schwalb said. A solution is contained in H.R. 831, a measure that would phase out special wage certificates in the FLSA. Schwalb noted that many textile services companies already employ disabled people and the industry welcomes their participation in the workforce. “This is not an anti-Goodwill push, this is for fairness,” he said.

TRSA member David Potack voiced his apprehension about unfair competition, noting that, “Our concern is as job creators, we’re forced to play on a playing field that’s simply not level,” Potack said. “If we have a contract with a hospital and we lose it to Goodwill and we lay off 25 people, we’re not really advancing the job-creation concept. So it’s a zero-sum game.” Schwalb pointed out that the industry is not alone in questioning Goodwill’s recent expansion. A number of groups representing disabled people, including the National Federation for the Blind, also favor reforming the FLSA along the lines called for in H.R. 831.

Albee requested that a Virginia-based member of TRSA write a letter to Sen. Warner explaining his or her concerns about unfair competition from nonprofit laundries, so that the senator can consider the matter more closely. “We’ll look at it without putting our finger on the scales for one side or the other,” Albee quipped.

Another topic discussed at these meetings was the urgent need to pass a budget as the new federal fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. While Republicans and Democrats, and subgroups within both parties, argue over spending and taxing priorities, Albee predicted that at some point a compromise will emerge.  “You know at the end of the day, if something is going to pass, it has to pass with Democratic votes and Republican votes,” he said. “If you think of a football field, I always assume you lose from the 20 yard line from the right and from the 20 yard line to the left. And there’s still 60 yards and 60 votes.”    

The group of TRSA members attending the Fly In included: TRSA Chair Jim Doro, president, Doritex Corp., Alden, NY; David Hart, president, Mountville Mills Inc., LaGrange, GA; Greg Hart, vice president of government affairs, Cintas Corp.; Brian Keegan, vice president of engineering, AmeriPride Services Inc., Minnetonka, MN; Milton Magnus, president, M&B Hangers, Leeds, AL; and Potack, vice president of sales & marketing, Unitex Textile Rental Services. TRSA staff participating in the Thursday meetings included Ricci, Schwalb; Jessica Skerritt, manager of environmental affairs & counsel; Tom Newell, vice president of operations; and Textile Services Weekly Editor Jack Morgan.

The TRSA group began its morning meetings with a breakfast session near Capitol Hill with U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO). They discussed a range of issues, including the need to support a compromise program on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) advanced by Indiana officials. This plan is known as the Industrial Launderers’ Initiative. During the meeting with Albee, Keegan, who chairs TRSA’s Government Affairs Committee, pointed out the benefits of working cooperatively with state, federal and private-sector groups to address the challenge posed by the small quantities of VOCs that are emitted into the air during the drying of shop towels. “We’ve been working on this with the Indiana Department of the Environmental Management,” Keegan said. “They’ve got a model program where they reached out using TRSA to assist in identifying who are the people out there that are processing these shop towels,” Keegan said. “So within that group, there’s a streamlined permitting program that you can go through to determine, ‘A., Do you need a permit and B., executing that.’ It’s very smooth. Very cost-effective, very efficient. So Region 5 (Midwest) and Region 1 (New England), are currently at the forefront of working on this. We’d like to encourage those two regions and others to follow this program of the Indiana Department of the Environmental Management in getting people that need to be permitted, permitted, and working the process through quickly.”

After the meeting with Rep. Gardner, the TRSA members walked across Capitol Hill to the office of Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), where they discussed a range of issues - including concerns about unfair competition from nonprofit laundries - with Policy Director Scot Mulvaney. In February, Rep. Harper introduced the aforementioned H.R. 831, The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013. Mulvaney emphasized that the bill is designed to empower workers and help mainstream them into the workforce. “The last thing we want to do is get rid of jobs for the disabled,” he said. “That’s not what we want to do.” Instead, he said the bill is designed to “empower people to support themselves.”

The TRSA team also visited the office of Rep. Lynn Jenkins, where the group met with Legislative Director Eric Schmutz. Among the issues discussed there were the need for tax reform and tax simplification. Schwalb pointed out a problem that some TRSA members have reported with auditors who claim that work pants don’t qualify for a tax deduction because they may be used for off-duty activities. The questions arose because work pants aren’t clearly marked with company logos like work shirts. Schmutz said the congresswoman, who is also certified public accountant, would look into the issue with Internal Revenue Service officials.