Speaking truth to power

UW and Harborview members speak truth to power on proposed closure of UW Laundry and costly new laundering requirements for HMC custodial staff

AFSCME Council 28 (WFSE) workers from the University of Washington (UW) Consolidated Laundry and workers from Harborview Medical Center (HMC) Thursday morning (Jan. 25) called on the Harborview Board of Trustees to uphold the values of King County and support workers on laundry jobs and respect for custodians.

The county owns the UW-run Harborview, but the UW must abide by a management agreement our members won that requires respect of workers.

The issues that brought the members to the Harborview board were the proposed closing of the laundry because of a claimed budget shortfall, and new self-laundry requirements.

UW and Haborview members speak truth to powerJohn Frazier, a supply chain technician 1 at Harborview, called for dignity by introducing the issues to the board. At issue are custodians having to clean their own uniforms at Harborview, and UW Medicine’s planned closure of its Consolidated Laundry facility in the Rainier Valley, which employs 120 members.

Marcie Serafica, a custodian at Harborview, told the board that if custodians have to now clean their own uniforms, that could lead to potential health risks for custodians themselves, UW Medicine patients and the public.

UW and Haborview members speak truth to power“Unlike doctors, nurses, and higher-paid job classes, the Harborview custodial workers would now have to shoulder the financial and scheduling burden of washing their hospital uniforms, which often are covered in biological and chemical contaminants,” said Tania-Maria Rosario, a Federation lead council representative in Seattle.

Mustafa Getahun, a truck driver 2 at the Consolidated Laundry, urged the Harborview board to engage with UW Medicine to avoid closing the laundry, which has kept Harborview patients safe by cleaning the hospital’s linen and employee uniforms.

AFSCME Council 28 (WFSE) members expressed their displeasure that the UW is balancing the budget on the backs of lower-paid, predominantly immigrant and refugee workers of color.

Many of the women and men who work at UW Consolidated Laundry have worked there for 15 to 30 years and speak English as a second language.

The workers of UW Consolidated Laundry have toiled for years in physically demanding working conditions, in high heat, moving millions of pounds of heavy linens, on a loud shop floor.

They have been stable and productive workers providing an efficient and essential service for the No. 1 trauma center in five states as well as other hospitals and medical centers including the University of Washington Medical Center and the Veterans’ Administration.

The members noted the cruel irony of the UW’s reasons for closing the laundry.

“We have not heard that the UW was proposing to address its financial problems by cutting higher paid doctors, managers, or administrative staff,” Rosario said.

The members used their voice to make two reasonable asks of decision makers:

  • They asked the Harborview Board of Trustees to treat custodial workers with the same respect and privileges that all workers should receive – and as required by the UW’s management agreement with King County.
  • And they called on UW President Ana Mari Cauce to work towards keeping the Consolidated Laundry open so that all of the workers, their livelihoods and their families receive the same level of respect and consideration as doctors or hospital administrators.