- Created on Monday, 03 December 2007 02:22
- Written by Liza Lentini
Goodwill Industries Inc. spreads goodwill inside and out of their Southeast Wisconsin laundry facility. It is one of 24 NISH affiliated agencies devoted to creating job opportunities for adults with disabilities. Current nationwide employment has reached 400 employees with severe disabilities in this program.
“It’s a feel good job,” said Shane Woodson, NISH Senior Program Manager. “Linen and laundry are secondary. We want to create work for people with disabilities.” Woodson acknowledges that there are specific challenges that accompany laundry facilities embodying this mission. But he has overcome those challenges and is enjoying what he calls a productive and fulfilling work environment.
“I hear all the reasons why commercial laundries and others don't want to support a disabled workforce,” Woodson says. However Woodson has more compelling reasons why others should employ a challenged workforce.
“It is estimated that over 34 million Americans are disabled and without jobs,” Woodson says. “That is an ample workforce. Second, this workforce is eager and willing to come to work. Through my experience I have identified a tremendous absentee and tardy problem in the workplace. But that is not so when employing a disabled workforce. Additionally, commercial laundries experience as much as a 40 percent annual employee turnover rate. The disabled workforce has almost a zero turnover rate.”
If those reasons to employ disabled workers aren’t compelling enough, Woodson continues to debunk the myths of disabled employees. “There is a perception that a disabled employee will generate more cost to the company in lost time, insurance, and worker's compensation,” he says. “But I have found that our disabled workforce is more cautious due to learned behavior and more attentive at training opportunities which makes them less bored. Additionally I have found no evidence that indicates a disabled worker has more claims for worker's compensation.”
The 30,000 square foot Wisconsin laundry facility services 2 million pounds of goods annually for the Navy in Great Lakes, Illinois. Navy goods include soldier sheets, bedding, clinic goods and various military gear including belts and knapsacks. The laundry also processes approximately 10 million pounds for the healthcare industry - local hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics.
Keeping Navy goods separate from outside clients’ goods during processing is not a problem says Woodson. “The laundry is kept separate as it is batched through the washer and dryer,” he says. “We count every item when we pick up and when we deliver we count those items again.” The army is currently looking at RFID to help identify certain items, but now it is all counted by hand, he adds.
Two Lavatec tunnel loading conveyors feed two 15-chamber tunnel washers that process 3,200 pounds a hour. Two Lavatec hydraulic presses are used for extraction, post tunnel washing. Auxiliary washers include a Braun washer-extractor and three Speed Queen washer-extractors. Drying of the goods is handled by ten 200-lb Lavatec dryers, a 400-lb Lavatec dryer, two Cissell dryers, two Milnor 150-lb dryers, and a 75-lb ADC dryer.
Finishing is completed by the use of a C&W feeder, two Central spreader feeders, four Lavatec ironers and a Lavatec steam ironer. For use in folding the goods are three Lavatec folder crossfolders, a Chicago Skyline folder crossfolder, four Braun towel and gown folders and two challenge towel and gown folders. Three Lavetec blanket folders are also in use.
Disabled individuals undergo the same laundry training as any other laundry employee, says Woodson. But there is a specific training methodology employed when training a disable worker.
“The training information is the same as it would be for any laundry but we have job coaches who are trained on how to work with those special individuals,” says Woodson. “Once the training is completed, the job coach can be called back at any time to work with the employee. The coach and employee build up a relationship.”
According to Woodson, training a disabled employee doesn’t take any longer than any other employee. “You just have to understand the best learning process for that individual,” he says. “If someone is autistic you try to use color and repetitious training so the individual remembers what they are supposed to do.”
So what jobs do most disabled individuals do in the laundry? Operating a CBW is not something that is done by a person with a disability, says Woodson. The disabled workforce will handle folding or repetitious activities such as working with ironers or the folders.
According to Woodson, the Wisconsin laundry is just one of 24 nationwide that service a total of 48 million pounds of laundry per year for the federal government. In addition, NISH services another 38 million pounds for commercial clients in hospitality, food and beverage, uniform rental, and healthcare. NISH’s newest plant, which recently opened in Jacksonville, Florida is a partnership with Sodexho.
“I have a great job,” says Woodson. “I get to work with people that want to work hard, do more, and accomplish much.
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