Paid for by SEIU 49.

Laundry worker Phung Nguyen has worked at New System Laundry for 27 years. Her job is physically demanding, yet she earns only $11.75 an hour. Nguyen works full-time, but struggles financially. But despite her commitment to her employer, New System recently announced intentions to double the cost of her health insurance— a move that would have grave implications for Phung and her husband, who requires ongoing care following a kidney transplant.

Tan Chau has worked for New System Laundry for nine years, and makes $11.55 an hour handling large, hot industrial irons and lifting bags of restaurant linens that can weigh almost as much as him. "I work two jobs to make ends meet," says Tan. "If I made a little more money, I would not have to worry every time I spend money on food."

New System provides clean laundry for hundreds of restaurants in the Portland area, from bar towels and floor mats at mom-and-pop pizzerias, to uniforms and table linens at fine dining establishments like Ava Gene's and RingSide Steakhouse. But many of the laundry's production workers, like Nguyen and Chau, live with poverty wages and healthcare insecurity.

Portland's food and restaurant enthusiasts are increasingly interested in the ethical issues surrounding the dining experience, but the plight of low-wage workers who provide outsourced services like laundry has, until now, flown under most diners' radar.

As the cost of living in the Portland region increases, it's becoming harder and harder for New System workers to stretch their paychecks to cover food, housing, and transportation costs. But the company's insistence on keeping wages low and drastically increasing healthcare costs for New System employees would make it even harder for them to make ends meet.

Approximately 70 production workers at New System have been negotiating with the company's lawyer to secure a new union contract since the spring. New System is sticking to its demands to double the cost of the workers' health insurance and is offering most workers only a 20-cent raise. That's an additional $8 a month for a 40-hour work week, which would be absorbed by the increased healthcare costs. How does that work for low-wage workers, especially in an increasingly expensive city?

On the company website, New System prides itself on "creating a legacy of quality and integrity", but production workers are being asked to make impossible financial sacrifices to keep their jobs. Nguyen and Chau are hoping that New System does the right thing and settles a fair contract that does not drive them and their families into further poverty.

New System clients, and anyone in our community who cares about treating workers fairly, should email Company President Mark Rawlinson at and ask him to do the right thing. New System has a number of Portland clients, including: Stumptown, Salt and Straw, Renata, Ringside.