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Through teaching, research and outreach, ILR generates and shares knowledge to solve human problems, manage and resolve conflict, establish best practices in the workplace and inform government policy.
Originally published in Worker Institute Blog.

Washing for Dignity and Safety on the Job:  Workers in the NJ Retail Laundromat Industry

Cartoon about wage theft

A new report by the Laundry Workers Center and the Worker Institute

Maria Figueroa

Despite being deemed essential during the COVID-19 crisis, laundry workers in New Jersey remain largely invisible, unprotected from violations of their basic human and labor rights, and excluded from pandemic economic relief. During the fall 2020, the Laundry Workers Center started surveying workers at the retail laundromat industry across New Jersey. Laundry workers face customer aggression, discrimination, unsafe working conditions, and much more. There is a discrepancy in the amount of labor laundromat workers put in compared to the pay and benefits they actually receive.  

Findings from the survey include:

  • NJ laundromat workers comprise a predominantly female and immigrant workforce. Ninety percent of respondents to a survey conducted under this study were women, and 87 percent were immigrants.
  • Forty-nine percent of the surveyed workers reported that they were unaware of the New Jersey law requiring all employers to allow workers to earn five paid sick days a year. On the flip side, despite the fact that just over half of laundromat workers are aware of this law, only 2 percent reported having received paid sick days from their employers. This is likely the result of fear of retaliation by employers; the need for paid sick leave most surely increased during the pandemic.
  • About 13 percent of the survey participants reported having experienced some form of harassment or hostility in the workplace, and another 13 percent reported experiencing some form of discrimination.
  • Laundry workers suffered the effects of the closing of the economy during the pandemic, and most weathered this crisis without any kind of safety net, and without economic relief from the state or federal government, and largely without access to health care.

Workers that were interviewed state that “there are days where I can’t find 15 minutes to rest. I don’t get a break and they only pay me 9 dollars per hour for over 45 hours without any overtime pay.”  Others are scared to get sick because of all the risks I am exposed to. Different people enter every day, and my employers only provide one facemask each week. I have to buy them in order to be ok.

A report by the Laundry Workers Center and the Cornell ILR Worker Institute examines the work and socio-economic conditions of workers in the retail laundromat industry in New Jersey.  The study’s aims are to raise awareness among stakeholders about the challenges that laundry workers face, to inform policy and advocacy efforts to improve labor standards and workplace safety in this industry, and to promote gender and racial equity for this largely neglected workforce.

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