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Laid-Off UW Laundry Workers Hold Town Hall Meeting

Mustafa Getahun has been a truck driver for UW Medicine Consolidated Laundry for more than 20 years. (Washington Federation of State Employees)
Mustafa Getahun has been a truck driver for UW Medicine Consolidated Laundry for more than 20 years. (Washington Federation of State Employees)
December 6, 2018

SEATTLE – University of Washington laundry service workers who will be laid off next year are holding a town hall meeting on campus Thursday.

UW Medicine Consolidated Laundry employees are frustrated with the school's decision to close their facility in March, which will leave 100 without work.

Nearly all are people of color and women.

Mustafa Getahun has been a truck driver for Consolidated Laundry for more than two decades and is a refugee from Ethiopia who came to the United States in the 1980s. He says he's sad to leave his colleagues.

"I feel like I've become another refugee,” he states. “I just feel like the same way, like 33 years ago, because this is the family we have. They can read your face, when you are sad or you're happy."

The meeting, which is open to the public, will start at 6 p.m. at Savery Hall.

Elected officials, the UW president and the group UW United Students Against Sweatshops will be in attendance.

The school is closing Consolidated Laundry in order to contract with Hospital Central Services Association in Auburn, a change the school says will save $3 million.

In an email, the school says the decision is purely financial.

The new company is not unionized, but Consolidated Laundry workers are members of the Washington Federation of State Employees. The union was in talks with the university earlier this year to get pay increases for the laundry workers to keep up with King County's rising cost of living, but never came to an agreement.

Georgina Tabasan, a single mom who also has worked for Consolidated Laundry for more than 20 years, says workers weren't asking for much, and are now in an even tighter spot.

"It's devastating for me and for all my co-workers, because most of us here are women and all of us have got kids to send to school,” she explains. “We don't know where we're going to go. I'm sad to say maybe we're going to be homeless."

Consolidated Laundry workers are frustrated at what they see as inequities in UW Medicine's budget. Their union points out their average salary is about $36,000 a year and the UW laundry budget is $12.6 million.

That's less than UW Medicine's 40 highest paid administrators, who make more than $330,000 a year on average.

The university isn't offering severance pay but says it might be able to help workers find jobs at other hospitals, although that isn't a guarantee.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA