Army to wash own clothes; civilian workers to be laid off

Posted: Sunday, June 25, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Army in Alaska has decided to begin washing its own clothes, meaning most of its civilian laundry workers -- most of them physically or developmentally disabled -- will be let go.

The Army will save $2.5 million over the next five years by not renewing its laundry contract with Portland Habilitation Center, said Maj. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Alaska.

Some of the savings will come from eliminating jobs, although the number of cuts hasn't been determined, he said.

''We're very sensitive to the fact that it will probably negatively affect some of our disabled Alaskans,'' Hilferty told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''It's never a good thing to lay someone off, certainly someone who has a hard time getting a job.''

A manager for the Oregon-based contractor believes two-thirds of the 64-person workforce will be given pink slips.

The Army and Portland Habilitation had been squabbling over their contract since it began in 1997, when an earlier deal was renegotiated.

Laundry volume -- 1.8 million pounds in 1999 -- has gone down since then, but the contract price remained about $2.7 million per year, Hilferty said. Portland Habilitation's last offer, made in May, was $2.3 million annually.

The Fort Wainwright operation is largely a transfer point where uniforms, hospital sheets and other items are sorted and prepared for trucking to Fort Richardson, near Anchorage, where they're laundered.

The laundry workers are civilians, with about half of them veterans and most claiming some kind of disability.

''I took to this like a duck takes to water,'' said Beverly Anderson, who has worked at the Fairbanks transfer facility for two years.

Anderson, who has a bad back and bad knees, made the comments while folding jackets, coveralls and rucksacks into neat piles on a long wooden table.

''I won't be doing it much longer,'' she said.

Hilferty said the Army was working with the state to help the employees find other jobs.

The contract expires July 11. Those to be laid off will be notified around the end of this month, Hilferty said.

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