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Members of AFSCME Council 28 take part in protests aimed at preventing the University of Washington from outsourcing laundry services at the medical school. Photo Credit: Rod Palmquist, AFSCME Council 28

AFSCME Fights Outsourcing at the University of Washington

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By Tim Welch and Jashua Bane Worth the Fight Workers' Rights

Members of the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE, AFSCME Council 28), Service Employees International Union (SEIU Local 925) and United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) are fighting efforts by the University of Washington to outsource laundry services.

Citing an operating loss last year, UW Medicine is considering contracting out laundry services, which employs more than 100 workers. However, workers fear losing steady jobs that allow them to serve the UW community while earning $15 to $18 an hour.

“We didn’t do anything wrong – and we’re losing our jobs,” said Local 3488 member Mustafa Getahun.

Last month, supporters petitioned UW to meet with the laundry workers to brainstorm solutions. The proposal to close the laundry facilities is “targeting lower-wage workers from communities who have little or no voice in the university’s decision-making,” the petition said.

Photo Credit: Tim Welch, AFSCME Council 28

Supporters also took their case to the King County Council. There, some 50 UW laundry workers – many people of color and immigrants who have embraced the American Dream –urged the county council to join their fight to keep their facility open. Local 3488 members said if the laundry closes and they lose their jobs, the UW community would be deprived of their services and the members’ families would suffer great financial distress.

“I just pray, I hope you guys help us out to keep this laundry open,” said Local 3488 member Patricia Thomas, a laundry operator for 27 years.

Photo Credit: Tim Welch, AFSCME Council 28

Despite these actions, UW Medicine still plans to issue bids for privatization proposals by mid-May. On March 29, the university issued 60-day layoff notices to 15 laundry workers, citing loss of business from two non-UW hospitals. That prompted a second campus rally April 9 in which the UW Faculty Forward union joined the coalition. During the rally, student allies briefly occupied UW Medicine’s main offices.

(Editor’s Note: Tim Welch is with AFSCME Council 28).