City Council Weighs Bill to Clean Up Dirty Laundries Endangering Public Health

New York, NY— Amid growing concern over dirty laundry plants not properly cleaning linens for restaurants, hotels, and hospitals, the New York City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs today held a hearing on new legislation that would address this public health threat and protect all New Yorkers.

The hearing focused on the City Laundry Equity and Accountability Now (CLEAN) Act, introduced by Council Members Ritchie Torres and Dan Garodnick. The bill would require industrial laundries that process linens for hospitals, hotels, and restaurants to be licensed and regulated by the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), similar to how retail laundromats and drycleaners are treated.

Supporters of the CLEAN Act offering testimony included Council Members, industrial laundry workers, public health experts, business owners, and leaders of Workers United, SEIU, 32BJ SEIU, 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers East, the New York City Central Labor Council, and Make the Road New York.

The hearing on the CLEAN Act came on the heels of a recent report showing that only 5 of the 50 industrial laundries serving New York City and impacting millions of people are certified under voluntary standards the laundry industry associations have established. That means just 10 percent of these laundries have received cleanliness certification through their industry–an alarmingly low number.

“The dirty clothes that I washed sometimes came contaminated with blood, feces, or vomit. But I separated these dirty linens prior to washing without gloves, gowns or a protective mask. The industrial laundry owners of the plant where I worked showed little concern over the sanitation or quality of the linens cleaned, even though they were going to be used by the public.  We didn’t always wash and disinfect the containers that carried the dirty laundry to the plant from the hotels. It didn’t seem like our managers cared if we were safe; they just wanted the work to move quickly. I believe the CLEAN Act is a step in the right direction for ensuring that all industrial laundries offer a healthy work place for workers and a hygienic product to the public,” said Miguel Figueroa, a worker who was employed for more than six years in an industrial laundry washing linens for luxury hotels in Manhattan.

“In many cases, industrial laundry workers who report working in unsafe conditions also report witnessing practices at industrial laundries that compromise the cleanliness of the linen being sent to customers and used by the general public.  Laundry operators who disregard their employees’ well-being are often disregarding the safety and well-being of consumers. The CLEAN Act is vital to raising standards and ensuring accountability in New York City’s industrial laundries. It will create uniform standards and expectations for consumers, and extend to industrial laundries the same licensing and regulation the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) already applies to dry cleaners and laundromats. Bringing oversight to this industry will benefit workers and the general public alike,” said Albert Arroyo, Secretary-Treasurer of Workers United.

“Most of us assume that our hotel sheets, restaurant napkins, and hospital linen are clean and safe for our use but unfortunately that is not always the case. There is currently no regulation of industrial laundries in New York City and no way to ensure that clean and safe linen is provided to New Yorkers and the 55 million tourists that visit annually. The CLEAN Act seeks to close that gap by ensuring consistent monitoring of the entire laundering process coupled with best practices for laundry processes in accordance with accepted industry standards,” said Dr. Carol McLay, DrPH, RN, Faculty, University of Kentucky College of Nursing.

“As a restaurant owner, I am both deeply concerned and outraged about the lack of regulation in the facilities that supply napkins, table cloths, and aprons to our businesses. It’s our responsibility to ensure that our customers aren’t harmed. However, health standards in our restaurants are being compromised when our linens are not sanitary. What’s the point of a restaurant grading scale, if our dishes are resting on soiled tablecloths?  This is why I strongly believe CLEAN Act is needed in our city. The CLEAN Act would help protect the public’s health and the integrity of New York City businesses that depend on them,” said Amir Nathan, Owner of TIMNA, a restaurant in Manhattan.

“On any given day, millions of people travel New York City’s streets.  They eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels, and receive care in our hospitals and other medical facilities. This legislation would create a common set of standards to help regulate commercial laundry facilities, which can accommodate upwards of 15,000 pounds of linens each day. These regulations would help protect the health and safety of patrons, while also helping to increase wages and safety protections for the men and women who work in commercial laundry facilities. The New York City Central Labor Council will continue to stand with our labor, elected, and community allies to fight for the health and safety of all working men and women,” said Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

“The people who stay at New York hotels, eat at its restaurants, and seek care at its healthcare facilities expect and deserve safe, clean linens. This is why the CLEAN Act is so desperately needed.  It sets minimum standards of cleanliness and mandates that best practices are followed at industrial laundries. We simply cannot rely on uneven standards and voluntary programs to ensure the cleanliness of linens. With multiple medical studies confirming that contaminated linen can transmit disease, it is imperative that laundries operating in and serving businesses in the city follow best practices to ensure that they are providing a sanitary product. Expanding the current Department of Consumer Affairs licensing and regulation to cover industrial laundries is a pragmatic and common-sense approach that will protect New York City,” said Conor Hanlon, Field Researcher, Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

“Without regulations, some laundry owners are allowed to act irresponsibly, endanger their employees, and threaten the public’s health. In the industrial laundries run by irresponsible operators, workers are reluctant to speak out to protest unsanitary conditions. They don’t report how they’re being encouraged to place clean linens back into dirty bins. The CLEAN Act will provide the oversight that has been severely lacking, and help ensure that all linen delivered to the public will meet the same standards.  That’s why SEIU 32BJ supports this bill, and we believe every member of the City Council should as well,” said Candis Tolliver, Deputy Political Director of 32BJ SEIU.

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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