In Perth Amboy, Mayor Wilda Diaz Rallies with Essential Laundry Workers Seeking Greater Protections Against COVID-19 and Fair New Union Contract
If Employer Unitex Fails to Address the Concerns of These Workers, the Company May Force a Strike and Create a Health Crisis at Many Area Hospitals
Perth Amboy, NJ — Today, Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz rallied with essential laundry workers who are calling for greater protections against COVID-19 and a fair new union contract as they continue to perform difficult jobs cleaning and processing medical linens for many area hospitals and nursing homes.
Mayor Diaz joined the workers in front of the Med-Apparel laundry processing plant at 35 Washington Street in Perth Amboy, which is owned by Unitex.
The unionized employees at this Perth Amboy industrial laundry facility are considered essential workers. During the current pandemic, these dedicated workers have cleaned patient bed linens, gowns and other linens for hospitals and nursing homes that were often contaminated with COVID-19.
These workers are overwhelmingly Latina immigrants who live in northern New Jersey on low incomes. Their essential, demanding jobs cleaning and processing medical linens – gowns, sheets, towels, scrubs, and other washables— have helped ensure the safety of hospital and nursing home patients, staff, and visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the rally, Mayor Diaz and Unitex employees were joined by leaders of the Laundry, Distribution, and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU, the labor union representing these essential workers in contract negotiations.
Recently, Unitex refused to disclose exactly how many employees of its Perth Amboy facility have contracted COVID-19. Despite a clear requirement to keep employees at least six feet apart whenever possible, according to Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 122 that covers all essential businesses, Unitex claims it has “not measured” the distance between employees.
Unitex is also under investigation by Region 22 of the National Labor Relations Board for alleged unfair labor practices, including illegally threatening to fire its Perth Amboy workers during contract negotiations if they walk off the job.
Unitex is a financially successful and growing company that once reported more than $150 million in annual revenue. It currently owns several laundry plants in New Jersey and New York. But instead of rewarding its Perth Amboy employees for their dedication and sacrifice during the COVID-19 pandemic, Unitex is demanding unreasonable concessions on retirement benefits, and treating employee’s safety demands with callous indifference.
If Unitex keeps ignoring the health and safety concerns of its Perth Amboy employees, and tries to force concessions on benefits, the company may force these essential workers to strike. A strike would disrupt the cleaning and availability of medical linens for many hospitals and nursing homes in New Jersey and New York.
If hospitals and nursing homes are unable to get clean linens, infection and disease could spread more quickly and could create a major health emergency endangering patients, staff, and visitors as New Jersey and New York grapple both with COVID-19 and flu season in the weeks ahead.
“During the most challenging days of the COVID-19 pandemic, these essential laundry workers here in Perth Amboy have put their lives on the line to keep many hospitals and nursing homes safe. It’s time for Unitex to deliver a fair new contract that includes increased health and safety protections for these workers, along with continuation of earned pension benefits for current and future employees. No one should have to worry about contracting COVID-19 while on the job. Unitex should immediately address the concerns of these workers, and implement the social distancing guidelines that Governor Murphy’s executive order requires for all essential businesses,” said Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz.
“These essential laundry workers in Perth Amboy have helped Unitex achieve extraordinary growth and success in recent years. Our members have stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic and faced significant health risks to keep many hospitals and nursing homes safe. They have earned a fair new contract. Unitex should immediately give its Perth Amboy employees stronger health and safety protections against COVID-19, and continue paying into the pension fund for current and future employees,” said Alberto Arroyo, Co-Manager of the Laundry, Distribution, and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU, and a top union official negotiating on behalf of the Perth Amboy Unitex employees.
“I have dedicated years of my life to this job. It’s very hard work cleaning and processing gowns, sheets, and other linens for hospitals and nursing homes in New Jersey and New York City. But I am proud to help keep these healthcare facilities clean and safe every day, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. My co-workers and I have helped Unitex become a very wealthy and successful company, and we deserve to be treated fairly. We hope Unitex does not force us to strike and prevent hospitals from receiving the clean medical linens they need,” said Brigida Vidal, a Perth Amboy Unitex employee who lives in Perth Amboy and has worked at the facility for 5 years.
Unitex employees in Perth Amboy clean and process medical linens for the following New Jersey hospitals: Hackensack Medical Center in Hackensack; John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison; St. Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick; Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth; and South Ocean Medical Center in Stafford Township.
They also clean and provide linens to a large number of New York City hospitals.
That list of New York City hospitals includes: Columbia University Medical Center, The Allen Hospital, Lower Manhattan Hospital, David H. Koch Center, Weill Cornell Medical Center, Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, all part of New York Presbyterian; Brooklyn Hospital (affiliated with Mt. Sinai Hospital); Mt. Sinai Hospital (Mt. Sinai Beth Israel); Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan; Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn; The Hebrew Home at Riverdale in the Bronx, NY; The NY Jewish Home, Bronx, NY St. Patrick’s Home Rehabilitation and Health Care, Bronx, NY; Methodist Home for Nursing and Rehabilitation, Bronx, NY.