About 20 students are currently occupying UW Medicine administrative offices urging the university not to shutter its laundry service. The laundry currently employs about 100 people who clean linens and scrubs for University of Washington Medicine hospitals and clinics.
After UW Medicine saw a $75 million operating loss last year, the university is considering shifting from operating the laundry to contracting a private company for the service. The school says the current laundry requires expensive upgrades. Workers say they fear losing steady jobs that pay $15 to $18 an hour.
Students are seated in the office clapping and chanting slogans like, "Hey, hey, ho ho, UW greed has got to go" and "Workers rights are not a game. Shame on Ramsey, shame shame" referring to UW Medicine CEO Paul Ramsey.
About 20 UW students are occupying administrative offices at UW Medicine to protest closure of UW laundry. Background: https://t.co/yRVScGp65Z pic.twitter.com/CwI5pVCKf1
— Heidi Groover (@heidigroover) April 9, 2018
"Frankly as students, we're ashamed," said Daniel O'Connell, a sophomore and the media liaison for the UW chapter of Students Against Sweatshops, which organized the action. "We're here to demand the university put people over profit."
O'Connell said students are willing to be arrested. "We don't want to get arrested. We want our demands met," O'Connell said. "If it comes to that, that's UW Medicine's decision." Asked if the students would face arrest, a UW security officer on site said only that the building is open until 5 pm. UPDATE: The students left soon after the building closed.
In a courtyard outside the office, about 200 more students, workers, and faculty members are rallying in support of keeping the laundry open.
In order to privatize its laundry services, state law requires the UW to give workers 90 days notice. The university plans to take bids from private companies through a request for proposals on May 16. In a February letter to the King County Council, UW President Ana Mari Cauce wrote that workers' "dignity and well-being will be our top priority throughout this process regardless of the outcome."
According to the laundry workers and their unions, most of the laundry employees are immigrants and people of color. Some have worked there more than a decade. Speaking on campus before marching to the UW Medicine building Monday, workers said they fear being unable to support their families without the jobs. The Washington Federation of State Employees and Service Employees International Union 925 represents the laundry workers.
During the rally, UW sophomore Iman Mustafa stood next to her father, who has worked at the laundry most of her life. The job offers a stable wage but "no mobility," Mustafa said. She fears her father will have trouble finding a new job if he's laid off. The university is "making them all homeless,' Mustafa said.
"We hope this will be the stepping stone to getting the attention it needs," she said.