Report: Alarming lack of cleanliness standards at industrial laundry plants handling linens that New York City restaurants, hotels, and hospitals use

Today, City Council Members, workers, and advocates unveiled a major new report showing that dirty, irresponsible laundry plants are not properly cleaning linens that local restaurants, hotels, and hospitals use. On the steps of City Hall, this diverse group of speakers discussed how the lack of cleanliness standards at more than 50 of these facilities in and around New York City endangers public health, and why Council legislation called the CLEAN Act can fix this urgent problem.

The report, Irresponsible Industrial Laundries: A Major Public Health Threat, was jointly released by City Council Member Ritchie Torres and CLEAN NYC, a coalition of labor, public health, community, and immigrant organizations that includes: Workers United SEIU; 32BJ SEIU; the Working Families Party; New York Immigration Coalition; New York Communities for Change; and Make the Road New York, among others.

“The soiled products that enter industrial laundries for cleaning can be far dirtier than household laundry. At local facilities that process linens and textiles, it is not uncommon for dirty laundry to contain hazardous waste and contaminants. And even though these linens are used by countless New Yorkers in establishments like hospitals, restaurants, and hotels, there is currently no regulation of industrial laundries to ensure that they provide safe, clean linens to New Yorkers,” the eye-opening report reveals.

“As part of my work, I would go get the containers of dirty clothes, and sometimes I ended up with my hands dirty from vomit, blood or excrement. When I went to the bathroom to wash my hands, there was no soap about once a week. To wash your hands with soap should be a basic requirement at any laundry. For me, it is disgusting and unhealthy not being able to wash your hands when you deal with dirty laundry all day,” said Edgar Gonzalez-Cierra, a Bronx resident originally from the Dominican Republic who worked from 2006 to 2011 in an industrial laundry in the Bronx that washed laundry for hotels and restaurants.

“Industrial laundries are able to get away with dangerous and unsanitary conditions because there are no regulations in place. Their operators know there will be no consequences so they violate basic safety and labor standards and jeopardize the health of thousands of low-wage immigrant workers. This must stop. As the lead sponsor of the CLEAN Act, I’m fighting to ensure industrial laundries are licensed and regulated, like other businesses in the city, and adhere to rules that protect workers and the public health,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres, who is lead sponsor of the CLEAN Act, with Council Member Daniel Garodnick. The legislation has a growing number of co-sponsors in the New York City Council.

“Irresponsible industrial laundries impact all of us and operate with very little oversight. It’s shocking that there are no local, state or federal laws requiring that restaurant napkins, hospital gowns, or hotel towels are washed properly, or even washed at all. This urgent problem can be fixed through the CLEAN Act, legislation that would establish new cleanliness standards at industrial laundries in order to protect public health. I urge the City Council to pass this crucial legislation quickly,” said Wilfredo Larancuent, Vice President of Workers United, a union that has organized industrial laundry workers and is a top supporter of the CLEAN Act.

The CLEAN Act would help increase cleanliness at industrial laundries and laundry delivery trucks while improving the quality of industrial laundry jobs and preventing the contamination of linens used by hotels, hospitals, restaurants, and other businesses. The legislation would require industrial laundries to be licensed and regulated by the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), similar to how retail laundromats and drycleaners are treated.

Under the terms of the legislation, if cleanliness standards and codes are violated, industrial laundries and delivery trucks would lose their licenses and not be allowed to keep operating as businesses in New York City.

Nonunion workers in industrial laundries, especially in the Bronx and outer boroughs, are routinely exploited. The mistreatment of these workers directly endangers public health. That is why establishing cleanliness standards through the CLEAN Act is so crucial for protecting millions of people who come into contact with linens washed in these facilities.

“Working conditions in industrial laundries can be difficult and dangerous. Workers are exposed to extreme heat, loud noise, harsh cleaning chemicals, and potentially life-threatening machines…No oversight coupled with attempts by operators to cut costs can directly impact the cleanliness of their finished products. It’s not just a question of having a stain on the sheet in a hotel either; in cases where unclean linens are used in a healthcare setting, the result can be a life-threatening infection,” the report reveals.

“This report makes clear that working conditions in far too many industrial laundry facilities are deplorable and in desperate need of reform,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Between extreme heat, life-threatening machines, harsh cleaning chemicals, disease-ridden linens, and low pay, the industry consistently ignores the health and safety of its workers. By requiring proper licensing, and closing the loopholes through which non-union shops are able to exploit their workers, the CLEAN Act will bring these industrial sweatshops up to modern health, safety, and ethical standards. I applaud Council Member Torres for his leadership on this issue. The commercial laundry industry can no longer be permitted to leave its workers unprotected and subject to such abominable working conditions.”

“Immigrants represent a significant portion of New York’s industrial laundry workforce. Too often, these immigrant workers are exploited by unscrupulous laundry facility owners and face deplorable conditions,” said Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “With this in mind, the NYIC supports the CLEAN Act: a critical initiative to address lack of oversight, clean up New York’s dirty laundries, and raise the standards for immigrant workers who deserve safe, non-exploitative working environments.”

“Industrial laundries serve many entities in New York City, including hospitals and hotels. It’s vitally important that we strive to protect both the workers at these laundries and the consumers who use the products they clean. It is simply unacceptable for workers to be subjected to dangerous work conditions or exploited for their work. The reports of unsanitary conditions and sloppy business practices utilized by some of these industrial laundries poses a serious health risk to our residents, workers, and consumers. As Chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee and an advocate for improving public health, I will work closely with Council Member Ritchie Torres on this piece of legislation to ensure that these businesses are properly regulated so that the health of all New Yorkers is protected,” said Council Member Rafael L. Espinal, Jr.

“No industry can function without oversight. The worker conditions in this industry have been shown to be dangerous and unacceptable. We need to ensure basic protections and quality-of-life for all NYC workers,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso.

“The findings included in this report are incredibly instructive as the city looks at solutions to improve health and safety at industrial laundries. Tightening rules at industrial laundries to ensure they adhere to high standards of cleanliness will benefit the employees who work there, the businesses who enlist their services and all New Yorkers who rely on clean fabrics and linens at public establishments,” said Council Member Mark Levine.

“The CLEAN Act, INT. 697, will go a long way to ensure the safety and health of industrial laundry workers. This Workers United report shows sweatshop-like conditions at many industrial laundries that include extreme heat, harsh cleaning chemicals, potentially life-threatening machines, and low pay for the non-union workers. That’s why I am proud to cosponsor this bill to regulate both the facilities and delivery trucks so that cleanliness standards are followed. I urge my Council colleagues to help pass this bill that will establish better public health standards. I thank Council Member Torres for his leadership on this important issue,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides.

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Supporters of the CLEAN Act:

  • New York Communities for Change
  • Make the Road New York
  • New York Immigration Coalition
  • ALIGN
  • SEIU Local 32BJ
  • SEIU Committee of Interns and Residents
  • Workers United Laundry Distribution and Food Service Joint Board
  • 1199 SEIU
  • Local 2013 of the UFCW