WASHINGTON – Cintas workers held up a banner that read, “Uniform Justice,” at a July 9 Capitol Hill news conference as lawmakers flayed the $2 billion uniform laundry firm for harassment of their workers to keep the union out.

“We stand here today in solidarity, and in support of the hard fought and hard won rights of workers to organize in the workplace,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). She announced that 91 members of Congress have co-signed her letter to Cintas CEO Robert Kohlhepp urging the company to halt its antiunion intimidation of its 27,000 employees. DeLauro recalled her mother’s life of toil as a low-wage garment worker and the role of unions in improving workers’ lives in the past century.

She was flanked by Teamsters President James Hoffa Jr. and Bruce Raynor, president of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), at the open-air event. The two unions have joined in an effort to unionize Cintas.

Victor Hidalgo, who emigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador, said he was illegally fired for advocating a union at the Cintas plant outside New Haven, Conn. His coworker, Teresa Moreno, from Mexico, said she has worked at the plant since 1992 and earns $8 an hour. “A majority of the workers are immigrants,” she said in Spanish. “The company wants to intimidate us so we won’t organize. They want to know who is with the union. They have fired my fellow workers for supporting the union. … I know we need a union in our plant to better our conditions.”

DeLauro’s letter states, “We believe that a card-check neutrality agreement in which ground rules for Cintas’ and the unions’ behavior are clearly articulated would be the best option for determining whether or not employees wish to be represented by a union.”

Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told the crowd that the Cintas CEO gave the Republican Party $1.1 million in campaign contributions, second highest individual contributor to the GOP. Cintas in Spanish means “too late,” he said, adding, “This is a ‘too late’ corporation that has to be held accountable for its corrupt behavior.”

UNITE’s Raynor said, “Cintas is a $2 billion company that in some cases is willing to spend up to $3,400 per worker to break the union and to deny workers their right to choose a union. But Cintas can’t spare the money to pay above poverty wages, to provide fair overtime or decent benefits.”

Cintas has “crushed 49 unions” in swallowing up scores of smaller industrial laundries in recent years. But now, he said, “UNITE and the Teamsters are going to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Cintas workers in their struggle for union rights.”

Raynor said 100 unfair labor practice complaints have been filed against Cintas. “All legal recourses are being taken advantage of.” But Big Business frustrates these legal appeals, he said.” A card check neutrality agreement is the best option.”

Victor Hidalgo told the World that since he was fired he has worked full time as a volunteer to unionize the plant. “There is no question we will win,” he said. “We’ve had victories already. There are improvements in working conditions, health and safety. The company won’t admit it, but everyone knows the improvements are because of the union.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com

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