Dozens of students put their bodies to protest Monday afternoon, staging a sit in inside the UW Medical Center to protest the UW’s potential closure of Consolidated Laundry. Hundreds of supporters rallied outside against Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine, and the move which would put more than 100 unionized workers out of a job.
“Paul has never been targeted like this before,” John Frazier, a UW employee with Harborview Medical Center, said leading the rally outside.
This demonstration was the second organized by the workers and their union, the first taking place on March 28. During the previous rally, workers and supporters gathered at Drumheller Fountain, shared their stories, then marched to Gerberding Hall to demand a meeting with UW President Ana Mari Cauce.
The president was not in her office that day and organizers had their concerns heard by her chief of staff, Margaret Shepherd. The following day, Shepherd emailed the union that Cauce “would like to meet with them, and she endeavors to do so at the laundry facility,” according to Rod Palmquist, higher education strategic coordinator with the Washington State Federation of State Employees.
This demonstration began almost as a deja vu of the previous one, a rally at Drumheller Fountain with workers sharing their stories and union supporters speaking in solidarity.
“Without this,” Gina Tabasan, a 19 year employee of the UW Laundry said, “I don’t know where to go.”
Tabasan’s concern was echoed by most throughout the crowd. The supermajority of the UW Laundry’s employees are immigrants, women, and people of color, many of whom English is not their first language, and are concerned they will not be able to find other work.
“My American dream is gone,” Rosita Ragil said.
Ragil has worked at Consolidated Laundry for 33 years and will not be able to send her son to college next year if she were to lose her job, she said. This situation was not unique to Ragil among the workers.
The rally was led to UW Medical Center where it continued, directing its chants to the office windows of Ramsey and other executive staff.
While this rally was taking place, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) organized a group of approximately 30 students to stage a sit-in inside the office area of Ramsey. The students began around 2:30 p.m.
“We’re staging the sit-in to express that the university shouldn’t be budgeting off the back of its lowest workers,” Daniel O’Connell, a student organizer with USAS, said.
O’Connell said the group was prepared to stay “until our demands are met.” Their demands were that the UW not privatize its laundry services and put its more than 100 unionized employees out of work.
Mindy Kornberg, vice president of human resources at UW Medicine, informed the students that neither President Cauce nor Dr. Ramsey were present, so no decision was capable of being made at this time.
No decision regarding privatization has been made, and the decision to privatize cannot be made at this time. Currently, UW Medicine is in a mandatory 90-day period after issuing an RFP (request for proposal), notifying the union that at the end of the 90 days (May 16), they will explore the market for options regarding its laundry services. Only after this period, in accordance with state law, could the UW decide whether to privatize or continue with Consolidated Laundry.
Kornberg also informed the students sitting in that the office closes at 5 p.m., though students responded that their intention was to remain inside. If students refused to exit the premises after 5 p.m., the UWPD said they would issue a warning to the students, then they could be arrested for criminal trespassing.
Shortly after 5 p.m., the students left under their own power, passing officers in the hall. Students inside regrouped with workers and supporters outside, and both groups pledged they will be back again.
Reach reporter Devon McBride at email@example.com. Twitter: @DevonM98