Teamsters join Seamsters to clean up laundry

Forming a landmark partnership, two international unions, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and UNITE (Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees) announced a joint effort to bring safe working conditions, dignity, and a decent standard of living to 17,000 workers at the nation’s largest industrial laundry.

James Hoffa and Bruce Raynor, leaders of the two respective unions, announced the plan to organize Cintas, a notoriously anti-union nationwide uniform supplier, at a rally June 25 at Chicago’s Teamster City. “This is a historic day for our two unions,” said Hoffa.

Laundry workers who sort, process, press, and pack uniforms, as well as those in other facilities who manufacture them, make up about 60 percent of Cintas’ work force and will organize with UNITE, union spokesperson Kate Shaller told the World.

The 7,000 truck drivers who deliver the uniforms and are also classified as sales and service reps will be organized by the Teamsters.

UNITE, which has made bringing justice to laundry workers part of its core mission, launched the campaign against the laundry giant earlier this year in the wake of a successful five-year campaign to bring 40,000 laundry workers from smaller facilities under union protection. While Cintas employees report being paid below the federal poverty line, the company reported $234 million in profits in 2002.

Cintas workers at the rally where the announcement was made were clearly excited about the significant resources the Teamsters bring to the campaign. Fully one-quarter of the Teamsters’ one million members wear uniforms every day, and hundreds of thousands of them wear uniforms made and cleaned by Cintas. The Teamsters can put pressure on Cintas by informing existing Teamsters employers who contract with Cintas about the company’s illegal conduct, which has resulted in hundreds of OSHA citations for violations of health and safety laws and charges of labor law violations.

This partnership “breaks ground for the labor movement in a number of ways” AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stuart Acuff told the World. National campaigns are significant, but pretty rare, he said, and joint campaigns, are “certainly something we want to encourage.” The AFL-CIO has been supporting the Cintas campaign since its inception, with staff and finances, he added.

Santa Ana Ventura, a worker at Cintas said, “I’m glad to know the Teamsters and UNITE will help us form a union, because we’re sick of Cintas breaking the law and cheating its workers.”

The author can be reached at rwood@pww.org