Mayor de Blasio is backing laundry workers who serve the city’s public hospitals weeks before they may go on strike over a contract spat.
The unionized workers who provide clean medical linens to public and private hospitals across the city planned to rally on Tuesday to keep pension benefits as part of a new contract with their employer, Unitex.
But the demonstration was postponed after the Daily News published a story on the rally Monday, when Unitex told workers they were willing to discuss the pension issue and consider other options.
The workers are prepared to strike if they don’t get a “fair” new contract by Dec. 1, though they’d like to avoid one.
“Unitex can easily afford to continue to pay into the pension fund for these workers,” said Alberto Arroyo, a top union official negotiating on behalf of the workers. “It would be shameful and wrong for Unitex to provoke a needless strike and cause many of the city’s hospitals to lose access to clean linens very quickly.”
De Blasio senior labor policy adviser Liz Vladeck was expected to attend the since-cancelled rally on Tuesday.
“The laundry workers who ensure our hospitals and nursing homes have clean and safe supplies deserve a fair contract that includes retirement security, and the city stands with them in their fight,” de Blasio spokeswoman Laura Feyer said.
Workers say Unitex wants to eliminate future pension benefits and replace them with 401 (k)s as part of their new contract starting next month — a move they fear would effectively shift the cost of retirement savings to them.
Unitex laundry production workers with two decades on the job get an average pension benefit of $500 per month under their existing contract, according to the union repping them, the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU.
The workers also want pay increases and affordable health care as part of their new contract. The union said they are overwhelmingly Latina immigrants who live in the Bronx and clean patient gowns, sheets, towels, scrubs and more.
Jose Francisco, a Bronxite and industrial laundry worker who has been at Unitex for 24 years, said the work was “difficult” but that he was proud to “keep hospital and nursing home patients, staff, and visitors clean and safe every day.”
“I and my coworkers have earned our pensions,” he said.
A rep for Unitex didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Unitex is the largest employer involved in the contract negotiation, providing clean medical linens to public hospitals as well as private facilities, including Memorial Sloane Kettering, Mount Sinai Beth Israel and New-York Presbyterian. Two other laundry companies, White Plains Linen and Arrow Linen, are also involved, but their employees provide clean linens for hotels and restaurants.