Blanca Landaverde was proud of her role in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic — she cleaned contaminated linens from area hospitals and nursing homes as an employee of a Hempstead-based laundry facility.
But then, Landverde said, the facility, FDR Services, fired her after she stayed home with COVID-19 symptoms, including body aches, headaches and a fever.
Landaverde, 50, of Hempstead, said at least five other former co-workers, one of whom tested positive for the coronavirus, were similarly and unjustly fired from FDR Services since the pandemic began. With the help of their labor union, the workers are fighting to get their jobs back along with pay lost due to quarantine orders from the Nassau County Department of Health.
“We are hardworking employees with families that count on us,” said Landaverde in Spanish. “I consider the job I do a major responsibility. To handle and clean linens from the hospitals in the middle of this pandemic is extremely important.”
FDR Services officials did not return repeated calls seeking comment. The Hempstead company's attorney, while declining to discuss specific employees, said officials there had no knowledge of sick workers under quarantine orders losing their jobs.
"The company is not aware of any employees calling in to the company at the time of an illness, with an order of quarantine, being disciplined, terminated, or otherwise suffering any adverse action,” said Scott Kamins, FDR Services’ Maryland-based attorney, in an email.
Newsday reviewed letters from the Nassau health department addressed to each of the six former employees and ordering them to quarantine at home for 14 days. Employees willing to be interviewed separately said they experienced high fevers, severe headaches and body aches that lasted for days.
The former employees, all women and Nassau residents with Spanish as their primary language, said supervisors directed workers to notify them if they fell ill, stay at home if sick, and return to work with a doctor’s note.
Landaverde, a single mother of two children, ages 16 and 12, said she followed the protocol. She said she was not tested for the coronavirus when she visited a doctor in Hempstead for her symptoms. She received her quarantine order from the county on March 27. With a doctor’s note in hand, Landaverde said she returned to work two weeks later.
“When they told me that I was fired, I was overwhelmed with such an awful feeling,” Landaverde said. “My fever returned, and I began to cry.”
Since then, Landaverde said, she has had trouble sleeping over the anxiety of not having an income for bills and overdue rent.
“I went back two or three times to beg them for my job, but they just refuse,” Landaverde said. “But how am I going to take care of my family? I just want my job back.”
Landaverde and the other workers are members of the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, a Workers United labor union.
Union leaders have been advocating for the workers’ pay and jobs and said they filed a complaint with the New York State Department of Labor. The complaints were under investigation by the New York State Office of the Attorney General as of Thursday.
“These workers are doing some of the toughest jobs out there right now,” said Megan Chambers, co-manager of the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board. “These workers are laundering linen coming straight out of this pandemic, day in and day out. Yet, when they get sick, they’re treated as if their work was worth less than nothing.”
Maria Hernandez, 57, of Roosevelt, said she was also fired despite having an order to quarantine and exhibiting symptoms such as fevers and body aches. Hernandez worked at FDR Services for 26 years, she said.
“Not only did I lose my job, but I still feel so sick,” said Hernandez in Spanish. She's a caregiver for her grandchildren ages 10 and 5. “It was the most terrible thing that could happen to me.”
Hernandez said she went to an urgent care facility in Rockville Centre and was advised to stay home and given Tylenol for her fever. Hernandez said she has not been tested for the coronavirus.
The employees said their managers told them they lost their jobs for failing to call in every day to alert FDR Services they were in quarantine or home sick. That direction was never relayed to them at any point, according to the workers.
Kamins said employees are required to call if they can’t report to work. He added that workers are paid for sick days, although the former employees interviewed said they were never compensated.
“Employees have been paid for sick days relating to an order of quarantine in accordance with New York law,” Kamins said. “FDR has not refused payment of sick days to any employees who complied with their obligations under New York law, and will continue to make sure employees are compensated and protected.”
State Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) said the former employees “deserve our full support and protection during this public health emergency.”
"I stand in full support of the workers who were wrongfully terminated by FDR Services Corp. in Hempstead for quarantining at home.”
The former employees said that recovery has proved more difficult with the stress of losing their jobs.
“After working there for so many years, to be fired in such a way, it’s an injustice,” Hernandez said.