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Hundreds of laundry workers on strike

By staff |
August 5, 2013
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(Fight Back!News/Staff) Striking workers picket plant entrance.

Saint Paul, MN - More than 240 members of Workers United Local 150 walked off the job from Health Systems Cooperative Laundries, August 5, forming picket lines at the plant entrances in a strike over unfair labor practices, which include the company’s unilateral discontinuation of sick-day benefits.

Workers poured out of the building starting at 1:00 p.m., completely shutting down operations at the commercial laundry facility.

Many of the striking workers are Latino and Asian immigrants. They work in conditions that often include temperatures inside the building in excess of 100 degrees. They have walked the picket lines twice this summer during contract negotiations to protest the company’s unfair labor practices. Worker say money is not the issue, but rather protecting workplace rights, which they have had in their labor agreement for many years, including the sick-day benefit the company unilaterally discontinued in April.

Union members nearly unanimously voted down the company’s “last, best and final offer” on July 26. Since then, Workers United – along with other labor organizations such as SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and area labor federations and councils – have been urging hospitals, clinics, doctors and the board of directors that oversees the operation of the laundry to restore the benefits and drop oppressive and unnecessary demands.

Negotiations resumed between the union and the laundry the morning of August 5 at the offices of Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services in Minneapolis, but at this point have been unsuccessful.

Workers at Health Systems Cooperative Laundries provide linens to nearly every hospital in the Twin Cities. The linens are typically used the day they are laundered, delivered to hospitals in carts specially set up for distinct uses. It is unclear where the hospitals will obtain linen service, but it will likely be at a much higher cost and without assurance that they will receive the same service that the striking workers provide.

“Going on strike is not something we want to do. We want to provide linens for the hospitals so healthcare workers and medical staff can continue caring for patients with the quality linens they are used to,” said Anita Beachler, a member of the union’s negotiating committee, who has worked in the laundry for over 30 years. “The company already took our sick-day benefits, and the contract they proposed would strip us of important leave of absence language, limit our bargaining rights over mid-term changes imposed by the employer and give us no protection should they sell the business to a new owner.

“The work we do is extremely valuable. Hopefully our bosses will understand that we deserve to be treated with respect, and that they need to give back our sick days and move off their anti-worker proposals in order to avoid a strike,” continued Beachler.

There is no indication as to how long a strike could last.

Members of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota are supporting Workers United and will be joining them on the picket line.

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