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Pants Suit Prompts Bill in Maryland

You may have guessed that after prompting worldwide ridicule, a D.C. judge's $54 million lawsuit against his neighborhood dry cleaners would disappear from the headlines. Think again.

Maryland Del. Barbara A. Robinson (D-Baltimore) was inspired in part by the case of Roy L. Pearson Jr. to introduce legislation requiring dry cleaners to pay customers for clothing they damaged. Click here to read the story in today's Metro section.

Scores of dry cleaners, most of them Koreans, attended a hearing yesterday to oppose the measure. With industry lobbyists in tow, the launderers packed the hearing room, spilled out into the foyer and sought to display strength in numbers.

Some industry leaders testified on behalf of the Korean dry cleaners.

Richard Ehrenreich, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Association of Cleaners, criticized the bill. He said it places too high a burden on dry cleaners. For instance, he said in his testimony, someone could spill champagne on a party dress and may not notice the stain because the liquid is clear. But the sugar from the champagne soaks into the fabric and when the heat of a dryer or iron is applied, the sugar creates a stain.

"Dry cleaners are experts, but you can only be expert to a certain degree," Ehrenreich said.

Ronald Greenbaum, who owns a dry cleaners in Rockville, testified and criticized Robinson's legislation by saying "she failed to go into the meat on this bill."

"She says she's creating a solution," Greenbaum said. "But she's creating a problem."

Click here to read House Bill 776. Click here to read a fiscal and policy analysis of the bill written by legislative staff.

Yesterday's hearing even stirred some racial tensions. Robinson, who is black, refuted criticism that her bill unfairly targets Korean immigrants.

Meanwhile, Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr. (D-Baltimore County), who also is black, criticized the Korean shop owners for not hiring enough African Americans.

"When Korean establishments are sold to the Korean community, African Americans who work at these cleaners are summarily or with time dismissed," Burns said. "At the establishments I patronize, I see absolutely no blacks."

Burns asked the dry cleaners in attendance to stand up if they employ African Americans. But Del. David D. Rudolph (D-Cecil), who presided over the hearing, interrupted and said this is a matter that can be worked out later.

-- Philip Rucker

By Philip Rucker  |  March 4, 2008; 9:48 AM ET
Categories:  General Assembly  
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What a bunch of ignorant delegates in MD. They are pissed because black people don't work at dry cleaners so they are going to pass a bill that targets cleaners to pay up?

For every step we take forward, we always take two steps back. Thank you Maryland.

Posted by: DT | March 4, 2008 11:18 AM | Report abuse

These racial implications by the delegates should not be tolerated. By anyone.

Posted by: Rick | March 4, 2008 12:47 PM | Report abuse

What the heck does having to pay for dry cleaning have anything to do with not hiring enough blacks?

For once, why cant people keep color out of these types of discussions? I wouldnt care if the person introducing it was white, and I am sure the rest of you would agree, unless of course there is reverse discrimination at play.... In which case I still dont care. Get over it. Not everything has to be color based or has to be MADE INTO a color issue.

Posted by: LL22102 | March 4, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Who the heck says, "Wow, my dream is to work at a dry cleaners!" I can't believe anyone would complain about that. Aim low, and you'll always live low.

Posted by: Fred | March 4, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Well, if there is a pattern of employment discrimination at Korean dry cleaners, you can't just ignore that. And if you discriminate against blacks, or hate blacks, don't expect the people blacks vote into office to cut you slack. You want slack? Stop hating/discriminating on the basis of race, and maybe your black employee will call his delegate and ask for a favor on your behalf.

The bill, to me, is reasonable. If you ruin someone clothes, you pay for them. If you don't ruin clothes, you have nothing to worry about. Ultimately, the poor cleaners (and the Pearson cleaners are, I think, now out of business) will go out of business and the good cleaners will add customers.

Posted by: RL | March 4, 2008 6:10 PM | Report abuse

As an African American, I think it is insulting what these law makers are doing? Why do African Americans have to expect and beg jobs from Korean Americans? The focus should be on helping African Americans own their own dry cleaning establishments. Not begging Koreans for jobs! This "slave" mentality and lack of creativity by the lawmakers is extraordinary. Booker T. Washington was right. We will never get respect by begging people for jobs. Let's create our own. This is just silly and gets no one anywhere. I know many Korean shop owners, They are not discriminating against blacks, they are simply favoring their own family members. Most of these are mom/pop shops. Just becuase the black community does not do the same doesn't mean that Koreans are racist. It means we are foolish!

Posted by: Jay | March 5, 2008 1:57 PM | Report abuse

The MidAtlantic Association of Cleaners, as well as it's affilate the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (formally the International Fabricare Institue) is ready, willing and able to assist anyone, especially African Americans enter ownership of dry cleaner businesses. We welcome everyone to be a drycleaner! Email us for details:

Posted by: Richard Ehrenreich | March 7, 2008 8:04 AM | Report abuse

There is a fatal flaw in Delegate Barbara Robinson's bill, and it goes to the question of responsibility for damage.

Say that you have a great new pair of slacks, and you carefully wash them exactly per the care label instructions, and they shrink horribly, or bleed dye all over your other clothes. Are you going to consider yourself responsible for that damage, or are you going to (rightfully) demand that the store who sold you the slacks reimburse you?

Therein lies the problem with the Maryland bill. If a cleaner follows the care instructions--which are required by law to be a cleaning method which will clean the garment without damaging it--and a problem occurs, why should the cleaner be hit with the cost? He/she relied on the law requiring accurate care instructions, just as a consumer does at home in washing garments.

As the international trade group for cleaners, we analyze over 15,000 garments a year, and this is the leading cause of damage. Most of our members will work with their customer, and assist them in getting a refund from the store.

The two lesser responsibilities for damage lie with cleaners in some cases (they did NOT clean the garment properly), and in some cases with the customer (for example, there are spills which are not visible on the garment, and if not pointed out, will change color and become set during cleaning and drying.)

If your cleaner is not giving you the customer service that you expect, you should find another cleaner. Yes, there are bad cleaners out there--and there are also many who give good service and good cleaning.

I don't what this to be a commercial, but someone who is an active, current member of a drycleaning group such as ours will have the latest information on problem garments; for example, our members get these alerts 36 times a year by email and in bulletines so they have a real leg up in spotting bad garments when they get to their front counter. They will also have the latest info on stain removal, cleaning, pressing, etc. and can call us for immediate help if they run into a problem.

If anyone would like our brochures explaining different types of damage, problem garments, color loss, and the FTC Care Labeling Rule send me a self-addressed stamped envelope and I'll be happy to have these sent to you at no charge. If there's something else you would like info on (wedding dresses, or household items, etc) just mention that and we'll send you addtional brochures if we have them on that topic.

I understand Delgate Robinson's concern about getting a damaged garment back--but there are ways of handling this other than hurting the cleaner, when the majority of problems is caused by the manufacturer's incorrect care instructions.

Bill Fisher
Drycleaning & Laundry Institute 14700 Sweitzer Lane
Laurel, MD 20707

Posted by: Bill Fisher | March 7, 2008 5:43 PM | Report abuse

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