Dirty Laundry: An Investigation

Source: Annie Hylton, Dissent, Summer 2017

…..While most New Yorkers recognize the thousands of storefront laundromats scattered across the city that offer drop-off washing or dry-cleaning services as well as coin-operated machines, few may be familiar with larger corporate-owned commercial laundromats, to whom these services are increasingly being contracted. Many of us have likely used a sheet or table cloth cleaned in a commercial laundry, which typically provides services for hotels, hospitals, restaurants, and neighborhood laundromats that outsource their laundry. The commercial laundry industry is growing: in the New York metropolitan area alone, the number of laundry and dry cleaning workers grew from about 9,480 in 2011 to 12,680 in 2016, according to the Department of Labor.

Commercial laundries can range from massive industrial operations employing hundreds or even thousands of workers to more modest “sweatshop” laundries, with anything from a dozen employees to fifty or more, like Suffolk, where Marlyn Gonzalez worked. It is in such commercial laundries, most of which are housed in large factory-like buildings in Queens, Long Island, and the Bronx, that thousands of laundry workers—largely African-American or immigrant women—labor in hot, crowded, and often dangerous or toxic conditions to clean the linens used by millions of New Yorkers. And it is these workers who endure the consequences of an industry plagued by poor working conditions, exploitation, and abuse…..