Cintas hit for sweatshop methods

NEW YORK – Calling for an investigation into sweatshop conditions at Cintas facilities that service 11 universities nationwide, workers detailed serious abuses of workers’ rights at a press conference unveiling a report submitted to the Fair Labor Association and the Workers Rights Consortium by UNITE.

Amanda Roldan, who works at the Cintas plant in Branford, Conn., which launders uniforms for the Yale Medical Center, said she handles bloody towels but was never provided with a Hepatitis B vaccination. “At work, we are not treated like people, more as machines. It’s always push, push, push for production,” she said.

Martha Cuervo said she only makes $6.15 an hour after 20 years on the job at the Cintas factory and distribution center in Chicago, which sends uniforms out to major universities across the country including Purdue and Cornell.

“It is very upsetting that our school is supporting a company with such a record,” said Matt Lackey, a sophomore at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. “The administration has gone to great lengths to make sure we are not supporting sweatshops outside of this country, and we hope that now they’ll do the right thing to make sure sweatshops like Cintas do not exist and thrive right here in our own community.”

Most of the universities involved have adopted anti-sweatshop policies for their school logo apparel. “Universities have long been leaders in the fight against sweatshops across the world,” Bruce Raynor, UNITE president, told the press. “We hope they will show the same leadership in the fight to win justice for Cintas workers.”

Also last week, Cintas workers filed class action charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging widespread discrimination against women and minorities at Cintas, including denial of promotions and classification into lower paying, less desirable jobs.

While company profits were $249 million in the last fiscal year, the 17,000 workers receive substandard wages, and complain of serious health and safety violations, unaffordable health care and illegal firings. Cintas is the largest and most profitable laundry company in North America.

Earlier this year, workers at Cintas began a union organizing drive for recognition by UNITE and the Teamsters.

The universities cited in the report include Louisiana State University, the University of Michigan, Miami University of Ohio, Stanford, Yale, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Tulane, Cornell, Rutgers and Northwestern University.

The worker rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association are both nonprofit organizations that assist in the enforcement of anti-sweatshop “Codes of Conduct” adopted by colleges and universities. Each organization has over 100 member schools.

The author can be reached at joelle.fishman@pobox.com.