Cleaning up Dirty Laundries Will Protect Consumers in New York City

By Ritchie Torres.

Every day, across the five boroughs, consumers regularly touch linens at hospitals, hotels, and restaurants. Bed sheets, tablecloths, napkins: these and other fabrics are regularly processed by unlicensed industrial laundries and their delivery trucks passing through New York City.

I was shocked to learn there are no legal requirements to ensure industrial laundries and their delivery trucks meet standards of hygienic cleanliness when doing business here in the city.

This basic lack of protection for consumers in our city is outrageous and must be corrected.

Even though countless residents and visitors use our city’s hospitals, restaurants, and hotels every day, there is currently no city law or regulation requiring that industrial laundries and delivery trucks provide clean linens to these establishments.

Of 50 known industrial laundries in the New York City area, only five are certified under voluntary cleanliness standards set by the industry, according to a report my office developed with top researchers who have studied industrial laundries in our area and nationally.

Now, of course, there are likely many more than 50 industrial laundries and delivery trucks operating in the five boroughs, but because they aren’t licensed and regulated, the city has been unable to track them. The greater the number of industrial laundries lurking in the shadows, the greater the public health risk to consumers. Frankly, we’re lucky dirty linens haven’t caused a public health crisis like Legionnaire’s disease and harmed consumers.

But we can’t continue to rely on luck – sooner rather than later, our luck will run out.

Real action is needed. That’s why I have introduced the CLEAN Act in the New York City Council, and am pushing to get it passed as quickly as possible this summer. The legislation, which has broad support, would clean up the industrial laundry sector and protect consumers.

Here’s how and why: it’s a commonsense bill that would establish clear standards of cleanliness for all local industrial laundries and laundry delivery trucks processing linens used at hotels, hospitals, restaurants, doctor’s offices, and other businesses throughout the city.

The CLEAN Act would require industrial laundry facilities and delivery trucks to be licensed by the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). The CLEAN Act would build on the licensing framework established by the Car Wash Accountability Act and apply the same criteria used to regulate other commercial laundries like retail laundromats and drycleaners that wash linens and other items belonging to or coming into contact with consumers and the general public.

Additionally, it would rely on the same consumer protection criteria used in the enforcement of paid sick leave at businesses throughout the city. Just as sick workers can endanger consumers by spreading disease and germs, so dirty linens can endanger consumers by spreading disease and germs. It’s absolutely essential to create a level playing field for all industrial laundry operators. Irresponsible laundries would be required to meet higher cleanliness standards, and if they fail to clean up their act, they cannot do business in the city. It’s as simple as that.

New Yorkers recognize that the CLEAN Act will address the public health threat posed by unregulated industrial laundries and protect the lives of countless New Yorkers and consumers.

Restaurant owners, public health experts, and others have testified in favor of the CLEAN Act because they know it will protect millions of New York City residents and visitors.

When bed sheets, tablecloths, napkins, and other linens are not properly cleaned and disinfected, consumers who use them can spread germs and disease.

Bottom line: If we act soon and pass the CLEAN Act, we can make the experience of dining out, staying in a hotel, or going to a city hospital much safer and cleaner for everyone.

Ritchie Torres, a Bronx native, represents District 15 in the New York City Council.

Op-Ed published on El Diario NY, June 1, 2016.

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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