Earlier this month, hundreds of hospitals and the patients they serve
came close to working without clean linens. A strike was threatened and
postponed but still looms because of ongoing contract negotiations and
labor disputes between the nationís largest hospital laundry supplier,
Angelica Textile Services, and its employees represented by the union
you didnít hear the news. Letís face it, most of us donít think about
the linens used during our hospital stays or visits with loved ones in
nursing homes. But we do know what itís like to do our laundry. Itís a
bore, and itís a chore. End of story.
For the workers employed
by industrial launderer Angelica, doing laundry is much more than a
chore. They're not only performing our dirty work. They're doing so in
dangerous, sweatshop conditions for only $9 or $10 an hour.
a typical Angelica employee experience. At a Jobs with Justice National
Workers' Rights Board hearing, Yvonne Wolcott of Batavia, N.Y.,
reported that she struggles to meet the companyís demands to speed up
production. Daily, she handles large volumes of soiled linens
containing blood, feces, urine, discarded needles, and other sharp
surgical instruments. The automated dumping machine that delivers dirty
laundry to her area runs so fast that "piles sometimes become so high
that they are above workers' heads," Yvonne said.
At an Angelica
facility in Vallejo, Calif., Mario Jarmillo witnessed the severing of a
coworkerís finger by a defective machine that had been broken for
months. "I can't feel safe in my workspace when I know the company is
capable of being that careless," he said.
Yvonne and Marioís
experiences arenít unique. Jobs with Justice reports that since the
start of 2004, federal and state regulators have conducted more than 15
investigations of Angelica facilities and cited the company for
violating U.S. OSHA laws designed to protect workers from unnecessary
risks to their safety and health. Yet Angelica workers remain
Adding insult to injury, when Angelica
workers who donít have unions attempt to form them, they have been
harassed, demoted and fired. To date, the National Labor Relations
Board has found merit in 47 unfair labor charges filed by Angelica
workers against their employer.
When it comes to our schools,
our communities and our country, we expect to have a voice. The
workplace should be no different. Unfortunately, because of weak labor
laws and employers who routinely skirt the law, workers are routinely
denied the opportunity to form a union and are often retaliated against
for exercising their rights. In fact, every 23 minutes in the United
States, a worker is fired or discriminated against for union activity.
doesn't have to be this way. In the past, the right to pursue the
American dream inspired low-income workers to form unions and demand
better working conditions. They were successful in part because we, as
a society, decided to place a premium on workplace standards. As a
result of these choices and the efforts of workers of previous
generations, every one of us benefits from weekends, basic health and
safety protections, and family and medical leaveóworkplace standards
modeled after terms first set by union members and their employers.
employees and countless others who attempt to form unions simply want
what we all desire and deserve: The dignity of a clean and safe
working environment. Fair wages and benefits that allow them to meet
the needs of their families. The opportunity to participate in the
decisions that dictate how they perform their jobs and produce quality
Their work isnít supposed to be clean, but it needs to
be safe. Their work may have been invisible, but their problems at work
are real. Whatís happening to laundry workers like Yvonne and Mario
should matter to all of us. Not just because their working conditions
are connected to the care we receive when weíre sick, but because of
the decline in working conditions affecting every one of us on the job.
employees see a work stoppage as the very last resort. No one should
have to walk off the job just to have dignity, safety and respect. And
if workers do strike, the company should bear the burden for the
Isnít it time for us to support Angelica workers
and others who are struggling to achieve the American dream, rather
than tacitly watch those trying to muddy it? We should all demand
Angelica to clean up its act and respect workersí rights.
Mary Beth Maxwell is executive director of American Rights at Work, a national workersí rights advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.