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Hospitals and nursing homes around Western New York may be stuck with dirty laundry if workers at Angelica Textile Service in Batavia carry through on a strike in two weeks.

The laundry's 120 union workers are poised to walk out May 5 over pay and working conditions, UNITE-HERE International representative Richard Pratt said.

But the company said it expects to continue operating with replacement workers if the strike materializes.

"We have an obligation to supply our customers," general manager Ray Shirtz said.

The laundry workers' contract expired Feb. 19. This negotiation is the first under UNITE-HERE, which absorbed the former Laundry Workers union in 2001, Pratt said.

"We approach this contract as the first contract . . . everything is so sub-par," he said.

Workers at the Batavia laundry earn average wages of $8.43, leaving most unable to afford the company's health care plan, he said. The union seeks a raise of $2.25 an hour over three years, while the company's initial offer was a 35-cent raise, he said.

Raises are among the issues the company is negotiating, Shirtz said.

About 70 off-duty laundry workers marched outside the plant on Tuesday as part of a "practice picket," Pratt said. UNITE HERE is also set to strike other Angelica locations May 5 in California and Texas, he said.

The laundry in Batavia cleans linens for Mercy and Sisters hospitals, the Buffalo Psychiatric Center and other health care providers in the area, the union said.

Protections for workers to avoid being stuck by used needles are inadequate, Pratt said.

After an inspection in August, 2004, the laundry was cited for 21 violations including blood hazards by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, leading to $140,850 in penalties. The company moved to correct the violations and is challenging the fine, OSHA records indicate.

"The plant always has been safe for workers," Shirtz said.

In a statement, the company accused the union of maligning it in a drive to unionize currently non-union facilities. Angelica Textile Services has 35 plants with 4,700 employees, making it the largest linen supplier to the health care industry, the company said. It is a unit of St. Louis-based Angelica Corp., which reported sales of $315 million last year.


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