ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Nearly 100 UNITE and Jobs with Justice members, as well as, youth and community activists rallied outside of the Angelica Corp. shareholders meeting here, May 25. At issue are Angelica’s repeated labor law and health and safety violations.

Nationwide UNITE has filed over 30 unfair labor practice charges against Angelica, the largest chain of hospital laundries in the nation, for threatening plant closures, withholding information, spying on workers and suspension or termination of pro-union workers. OSHA has also fined Angelica for not providing adequate hazardous equipment training. In two separate plants OSHA fined the company over $50,000 because of health and safety violations.

After the rally, the People’s Weekly World interviewed Miguel Flores, a former Angelica employee from Texas. Flores was fired for supporting the union.

“The UNITE campaign started on a Friday,” he told the World. “The following Monday they suspended me. And by that Friday I was fired.

“When the campaign started the company was in a frenzy,” Flores continued. “They began holding captive audience meetings and speaking out against the union. Then they began promising better benefits. They said ‘We can resolve our problems together. We don’t need a union.’”

Flores spoke up at a “captive audience” meeting. Later that day management asked him to sign a letter stating that he had “thrown a laundry basket down a ramp.” Flores refused and was then suspended for three days and fired when he returned.

He said, “As much as they focus on money and production, they should be focused on the workers! Our insurance is too expensive. We work 10-12 hours one day, and then, 2-3 hours the next, so they don’t have to pay us overtime. Single mothers can’t get time off to take care of their children. Angelica is extremely abusive to its workers,” Flores added.

Last year Angelica made $275 million in sales and CEO Steven O’Hara’s salary was $450,000, not including perks, bonuses and stock options.

While O’Hara makes around $250 an hour, the average Angelica worker makes between $6.50 and $9 an hour. Angelica is only “focused on production,” said Flores. “That is all they care about. ‘More! Faster and faster! Quantity not quality!’ They don’t value the work we do. It’s not right. They yell at us a lot. We feel humiliated and used. We know that Angelica makes a lot of money off of us.”

Safety is also a major concern for Angelica workers. “We handle extremely dirty linens,” Flores said. “We handle diaper cloths, linen with blood clots and needles.” Flores said he had to quickly sort through numerous 200-pound bags “straight from the hospitals. Many bags still had blood, guts, body fluids, and different blood-borne diseases. We could get hepatitis or HIV,” he said.

This process is called “soil sort,” Flores said. “It used to take 10 to 12 people to handle all the bags of linen. Now Angelica expects five to six people to do the job of 12.”

UNITE’s Angelica strategy includes three key components. First, UNITE is organizing to turn all 29 Angelica facilities into union shops. Currently about two-thirds of Angelica’s employees are union. Second, UNITE is stepping up pressure in its union shops – “making them hot” – activating members, signing petitions, calling OSHA, filing grievances. “We want Angelica to feel the heat,” the union said in a statement.

Third, UNITE is talking to Angelica’s corporate customers, explaining to them how this campaign and the treatment of workers affects them.

“I want O’Hara to know that we want dignity and respect. We want more benefits, better salaries, and workable schedules. We want Angelica to recognize seniority and to value its workers,” said Flores. “I want Angelica to think about what would happen if all the workers went out on strike.”

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UNITE organizer Sebrina Palmieri translated for this story.