NEW YORK – As part of a National Day of Action in support of 17,000 Cintas laundry workers, members of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), with support from Service Employees (SEIU) Local 32 BJ and Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1500, held a spirited rally here, April 23, in front of two separate Starbucks coffeeshops. Cintas is Starbucks’ apron and mat supplier.

UNITE Vice President Wilfredo Laurancuent told the World, “Starbuck portrays itself as socially responsible. They have fabricated an image that they care about workers … that they care about the environment. Well, if that is what your standards are, observe them. And have the same standard for all of your suppliers, including Cintas.”

Cintas, the nation’s largest manufacturer of uniforms, with $234 million in profits last year, has been cited 25 times by the National Labor Relations Board for sexual and racial discrimination, refusing to pay overtime, surveillance and interrogation of employees and illegally firing union supporters.

Lauren Cerand, media outreach coordinator for UNITE, told the World, “Today is really about workers and their rights. People have a right to stand up at work and say they want a union.” Similar actions took place at Starbucks locations across the nation, Cerand said. “We’re going to keep doing this until Starbucks gets the message.”

Starbucks says in its mission statement that it “strives to buy, sell, and use environmentally friendly products” and “instill environmental responsibility.” Katie Unger, of UNITE, said, “Starbucks needs to put its money where its mouth is. Cintas is responsible for dumping untreated wastewater into rivers.” This “is an environmental and worker problem,” she said.

New York isn’t the only place where Cintas has violated labor law. On March 19, charges were brought against Cintas in California on behalf of 3,500 employees who were deliberately misclassified as exempt from overtime. Some were even forced to work up-to 70 hours a week. The lawsuits could cost Cintas $75 to $100 million for unpaid overtime.

Last year the company agreed to settle a similar lawsuit over unpaid overtime in California for $10 million.

An additional 40 lawsuits have been filed against Cintas for racial, sexual, age and disability discrimination. And the company has been cited and fined eight times for failing to pay the federal minimum wage.

Most Cintas uniform production workers are female and people of color, many of them recent immigrants.

Cintas also has a history of buying out unionized competitors and closing their facilities, leaving thousands of union members out of work. In 1999 Cintas bought out heavily unionized Unitog – and closed all but one of its union plants. Cintas also acquired Metropolitan Uniform Services, where the employees had been union members for 28 years, and then tried to decertify the union by promising higher wages and better benefits, unlawful conduct under U.S. labor law.

With chants of “Listen Starbucks, we’re here to say, ‘Stop using Cintas today’,” in the background, UFCW organizer John Mellon said, “It is important for labor to stick together. What affects one worker, affects another.” He added, “When it comes to labor organizing, companies will stop at nothing to break the union. And we’re here to show our support to the Cintas workers.”

The author can be reached at tonypec@pww.org

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