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Employees, lawmakers protest working conditions at Hempstead laundry company

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Employees of a Hempstead-based industrial laundry facility contend they are working in rodent-infested sweatshop-like conditions, including extreme heat and a lack of hot water, and have been without a contract and health insurance for the past six years.

Some of the 175 workers at FDR Services Corp. rallied outside the company’s headquarters Tuesday, holding signs reading “Workers United Will Never Be Defeated” while chanting “Shame on FDR.”

They were joined by members of their union, the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, and state lawmakers, who delivered a letter to FDR management urging the company to negotiate a new contract with its employees. Company officials refused to accept the letter and demanded the lawmakers and union members leave the facility.

Messages left with a spokesman and attorney for FDR Services, which had laundry contracts with numerous health care facilities and nursing homes across Long Island and in New York City, were not returned.

Estabana Morales of West Hempstead, who has worked for FDR for 27 years folding clothes, said through a Spanish translator: “It’s too hot, very dirty and the restrooms don’t work.” She added that she fears illness because of a lack of health insurance.

The most recent labor deal for FDR Services workers expired in February 2017, officials said.

“These workers don’t have a union contract,” said Alberto Arroyo, co-manager of the union. “They don’t have health insurance, and they want their good health insurance back.”

Union employees make a starting average salary of $15 an hour, the minimum wage in the region, labor officials have said.

“Laundry is a dirty business but that doesn’t entitle you to disrespect your workers,” said Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont). “These are essential workers and … we will not stand for the mistreatment of New Yorkers.”

assembly Taylor Darling (D-Hempstead), who represents the area, said the conditions at FDR were “unacceptable” and that employees “were exposed to extreme heat, harsh chemicals and rodent infestations.”

In September 2021, State Attorney General Letitia James reached a $400,000 settlement with FDR over allegations the company terminated 10 employees who missed work while they were sick with COVID-19, in violation of state and federal law. The company denied breaking any laws and said the employees were fired “because they did not show up for work nor did they properly call out sick.”

FDR Services agreed to pay the 10 fired employees and rehired five of the workers.

The settlement came as the National Labor Relations Board opened multiple investigations into the company for violating its union workers’ labor rights.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined FDR more than $17,000 in 2019 for a host of safety violations, records show.

One year earlier, the company agreed to pay more than $27,000 in back pay to union employees, according to records obtained by Newsday.

“It’s not right how they treat us,” Alejandra Hernandez of Roosevelt, who has worked for FDR for 23 years folding sheets, said through a Spanish translator.