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RENTAL LAUNDRY INDUSTRY Seeks Unprecedented Hill Support

ALEXANDRA, Va. — More members of Congress are voicing their support for rental launderers, backing the industry on environmental and tax issues to federal agencies. Upgraded government affairs operations at the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA) are being credited for prompting this additional help from Capitol Hill. Representing 1,500 U.S. uniform and linen supply locations, TRSA began placing additional emphasis on Congress last summer when they identified imminent threats to the industry’s bottom line on three legal fronts and developed strategies to contain them. Those threats are:

Shop towels.
Seeking a competitive edge, paper wiper manufacturers persuaded EPA to conduct research on the handling and laundry processing of shop towels. Results of the study prompted the agency to reconsider its plan to perpetuate the exemption for towels from regulation as solid or hazardous waste. Currently, paper wipers do not receive a legal exclusion. This distinction is seen as providing a critical market advantage to reusables needed to preserve the product’s rental sales, which contribute about $1 billion in annual revenue to the rental laundry industry.

Safe surfactants.
The industry had pledged to EPA in 1999 that it would increase its use of environmentally friendlier wash chemicals. The agency became adamant about total elimination of nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE), considered a threat to hormonal balance in aquatic life. Most consumer detergent manufacturers had already dropped this ingredient. To ensure rental laundries will do the same, the agency has considered requiring installation of monitoring equipment that would detect laundry worker exposure to NPE vapors.

Taxes on textile items.
When linen and uniform companies buy textile items they intend to rent to a customer, they can deduct 100 percent of such a purchase’s value on their tax returns for the year of the buy. The IRS has continually sought to change this. The IRS has contended that because some products last more than a year, such write-offs should be spread over more than a year (amortized). Recently, the agency toughened its stance, planning not to allow any deductions unless every single item’s lifecycle is accounted for, creating an onerous if not impossible inventory-tracking challenge for the industry.

“Between the NPEs, shop towels and the IRS rule, over 20 percent of the textile services industry’s revenues are in serious jeopardy,” says TRSA Government Affairs VP, Charlie Sewell. “And there are other troubling issues on the horizon, from ergonomics to binding arbitration and increased OSHA authority that could cost even more.”

“If friendly members of Congress hadn’tregistered their concerns, every commerciallaundry facility would have had to install costly air monitoring equipment by now.”

To combat these issues, the association decided to tackle them head on by enlisting members of Congress to champion the industry’s causes. Efforts were made to familiarize legislators with the industry’s positive impacts on the economy and environment. Congressional tours were arranged at member facilities and a fundraiser was held. Legislators have responded by voicing their support for the industry’s causes. Numerous letters, individually authored or co-signed by Senators and Representatives, have been sent to EPA on the shop towel issue. These have been directed to the agency’s chief administrator and the recycling and generator branch of the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. The Office of Pollution and Toxics was contacted regarding the NPE issue. Sewell described these efforts as having achieved “considerable” success.

“If friendly members of Congress hadn’t registered their concerns, every commercial laundry facility would have had to install costly airmonitoring equipment by now. Although this issue isn’t totally resolved, I believe we have helped to put the industry in the best possible position for a positive resolution,” Sewell said. The EPA is warming to the industry’s proposal of a gradual phase-out of NPE by a date certain in exchange for no requirement for air monitoring, he said. On the tax deductibility issue, many legislators have signed letters and made calls to the IRS.

While this has been a good start, Sewell said, it pales in comparison with what is needed. “We’re making progress on each of these issues because we’ve been able to develop a few, well-placed congressional champions. But we can’t fight back as effectively as we’d like without more congressional help.”

To achieve such an increase, the association is seeking more funds. TRSA hopes donations to its political action committee will increase and more industry companies will become dues-paying members. Grassroots efforts—in which member company executives interact with their federal legislators—need to increase, too.

“Government never stops churning. Every day someone in Washington cooks up a new scheme that can cost you money. If an industry doesn’t make repeated contact with elected officials—both personal and financial—other interest groups will eclipse that industry’s views by actively engaging those same lawmakers,” said Sewell. “Because you express your opinions once, that doesn’t mean they were heard. The proverbial ‘squeaky wheel’ gets the grease. Any industry that wants to protect its bottom line must squeak incessantly.”

Quick Rinse - News From Around The World

Faultless Laundry Spending $12 million on New Plant

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Faultless Laundry Co. is spending almost $12 million on a facility to accommodate its growing St. Louis business which has grown from 28 million pounds to 36 million pounds due to a new contract. Faultless serves more than 30 acute hospitals and over 400 retail medical locations in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas.