Protesters at the UW occupied the office of the medical center CEO, saying they want the university to abandon a proposal to close the laundry with about 115 employees.
More than a dozen University of Washington students occupied the office of UW Medicine’s CEO Monday afternoon to protest the possibility that the university might close a hospital laundry facility with more than 100 employees.
The students said they were ready to be arrested. But shortly after the office closed for the day, the protesters left peacefully.
Members of UW United Students Against Sweatshops said they were there in support of hospital laundry workers who fear the university is planning to outsource the work to save money.
Nineteen student protesters moved into the lobby of CEO Paul Ramsey’s office Monday afternoon, shouting and chanting, and refused to leave. They were joined by about 100 students and labor leaders, who marched from Drumheller Fountain to join them.
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Ramsey’s office is in the Magnuson Health Sciences Center, adjoining the UWMC hospital, and the protesters took over the courtyard outside while the occupiers remained inside.
The group opposes a proposal by the UW to close the consolidated laundry facility on Rainier Avenue that employs about 115 people and has operated for 30 years. The laundry, at 2901 27th Ave. S., is across the street from the Mount Baker light-rail station. It washes patients’ linens from UWMC, Harborview and Northwest Hospital.
The laundry is outdated and in need of repairs, said UWMC spokeswoman Tina Mankowski. UW Medicine intends to solicit bids from other suppliers May 16 before making a final decision about the facility, she said in an email.
Earlier this year, the UW laid off 15 laundry workers because the veterans hospitals in Seattle and the Skagit Valley Hospital no longer send their work there. Mankowski said the university gave the employees two months’ notice and encouraged them to apply for positions elsewhere on the campus.
She said if the remaining jobs were eliminated, the UW would seek to find new jobs for those workers as well.
UW Medicine is looking for ways to save money because last year it had a $75 million deficit, out of an overall $5 billion budget.
“We are not alone in facing these financial challenges — other hospitals and systems are facing similar financial stress,” Mankowski said.
Leng Nghiep, one of the laundry workers who came to the rally Monday, said the workers were told Jan. 5 that the laundry would be closing.
She said she has worked at the facility for 20 years and it has helped support her family. “I hope they change their minds,” she said.
Students say they want the university to invest in upgrading the laundry. Workers there make from $15.75 to $18.55 an hour, said Rod Palmquist, higher-education coordinator for the Washington Federation of State Employees.
Michael McCann, a UW professor and director of the Harry Bridges Labor Center, said the move to close the laundry is part of a pattern of the UW “treating workers as disposable commodities.”
The students initially expected to be arrested for refusing to leave the office but changed their minds and decided to leave on their own because Ramsey wasn’t in the building today, said Becky Fuller-Phillips, one of the 19 students who occupied Ramsey’s office.
“We’re going to save our arrest records for another, bigger action,” she said.
Correction: This story has been corrected to indicate that the UW gave 15 launder workers who were laid off a two-month notice. The previous version said the workers were given 30 days’ notice.