Poisons at Cintas laundry

Commentary

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Workers at the Cintas plant in Branford, Conn., and across the country are taking their lead from co-workers in Long Island, N.Y., who are standing up for their health and safety rights.

Last month, Long Island Cintas workers marched into the front office of the industrial laundry with a written request for copies of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).

“We demanded three times that management give us the information on the chemicals because we launder the dirty uniforms of Terminix and TruGreen,” said one of the leaders. In a message to workers at other Cintas plants, the Long Island workers urged, “We challenged the company because our co-workers have rashes, irritated skin, peeling hands. Now we have the MSDS and we encourage you to do the same.”

Three major customers of the uniform company, ChemLawn, TruGreen and Terminix, use strong chemicals to kill rats, termites, bugs and weeds. Handling thousands of these dirty uniforms each day has created skin irritations, headaches, nosebleeds, eye irritation, vomiting and even cancer.

An active union organizing drive at the 300 Cintas plants in the United States and Canada, spearheaded by UNITE! in conjunction with the Teamsters, has been underway for several years.

The organizing drive at the Cintas plant in Branford has drawn local support from state and federal politicians. Workers are fighting to gain better wages, health benefits, a safe working environment and respect, justice and dignity. Last year the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection fined the Branford facility $290,000 for dumping chemicals into the river after workers brought these problems to light.

Cintas’ profits spread wide and far. It’s time they put health and safety on their top list for immediate correction. People come to work and give their best to the company. They don’t come to work to get sick and maybe even worse wind up with permanent health problems. The workers deserve and have the legal right to know what chemicals they work with. It’s time for Cintas to do the right thing.