As COVID Cases Rise, Essential Laundry Workers in Perth Amboy Strike Over Employer’s Illegal Threats to Fire Them
During Contract Negotiations, Unitex Corporation Has Threatened to Fire These Unionized Workers if They Exercised Their Right to Strike
Their co-workers in Mount Vernon, New York, where Unitex operates two facilities, also walked off the job to honor the primary picket line, and New York State Senator Jamaal Bailey joined them in solidarity.
These essential laundry workers clean linens for many hospitals in New Jersey and New York City operating on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The workers in Perth Amboy are striking to protest illegal threats of termination currently under investigation by Region 22 of the National Labor Relations Board.
Their strike comes amid a dramatic spike in new COVID-19 cases in both New Jersey and New York. Unitex’s illegal threat of firing these unionized workers appeared aimed at intimidating them into accepting an unreasonable and unfair new contract.
The company has also refused to commit to basic protections against COVID-19, such as providing employees with two facemasks daily and maintaining six feet of social distance between them. And it has refused to disclose exactly how many employees of its Perth Amboy facility have contracted COVID-19.
During the current pandemic, these overwhelmingly low-wage, Latina workers have cleaned patient bed-linens, gowns and other linens for hospitals and nursing homes that were often contaminated with COVID-19. They are represented by the Laundry, Distribution, and Food Service Joint Board (LDFS Union), Workers United/SEIU.
Unitex is a financially successful and growing company that reported more than $150 million in annual revenue as of 2014.
“Our members have stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic and faced significant health risks to keep many New York City hospitals and nursing homes safe. They wanted to avoid a strike, but will not accept intimidation or illegal threats from Unitex. That’s why they were outside on the picket line today protesting unfair labor practices by Unitex,” 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. 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. Unitex forced us to strike today after they illegally threatened us and tried to intimidate us into accepting an unfair contract. We are essential workers, and we deserve better from our employer,” said Brigida Vidal, a Unitex employee.
Once the unfair labor practice strike ends, the workers at Perth Amboy will continue bargaining for a fair contract with Unitex.
New York State Senator Jamaal Bailey, who represents a district where two Unitex shops are located, expressed strong support today for the health and safety proposals the workers have made.
“The essential industrial laundry workers deserve to be provided with COVID-19 safety measures, and proper equipment. It is the duty of corporations like Unitex to protect their employees, especially after they have risked their lives and their families during the spike of the pandemic earlier this year. Especially in light of rising cases locally in the City of Mount Vernon, I urge Unitex to reconsider the proposals made by their employees and implore them to enact those proposals,” said Bailey.