For immediate release
September 11, 2008
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Precedent Setting Case is One of the Largest Living Wage Awards in U.S. History and Strengthens Cities' Ability to Enforce Regulations
SAN FRANCISCO, September 11, 2008—Cintas Corporation must pay more than $1.65 million in back wages, interest and penalties for violating the city of Hayward’s Living Wage Ordinance after the California Supreme Court rejected the company’s appeal yesterday. The Court’s decision allows more than 200 Northern California laundry workers to enforce a landmark judgment by the Alameda County Superior Court that was affirmed earlier this summer by the California Court of Appeal, which is believed to be the one of the largest living wage awards in U.S. history and strengthens cities’ ability to enforce local labor standards.
"For five long years, Cintas refused to give us what was rightfully ours," said Francisca Amaral, one of the suit’s plaintiffs. "They told us that we would get nothing. They spent millions of dollars to try to deny us our rights. The decision shows that workers can get justice and get what we’ve earned through our hard work."
When workers filed the suit in 2003, it was one of the first attempts to enforce a living wage law through the courts. Hayward’s living wage law requires employers to pay higher wages to workers who worked on city contracts. Employees without health insurance like Ms. Amaral should have received $10.71 per hour, but after 13 years of service, she only earned $8.40. Cintas cancelled the Hayward contract rather than fulfilling its obligation to pay the living wage. In court, the company unsuccessfully raised constitutional and procedural challenges to the workers’ lawsuit.
The 2006 judgment awarded the 219 workers, including current and former employees from Cintas’s San Leandro and Union City laundries, $805,243 in back wages plus $375,000 in pre-judgment interest. Cintas also owes more than $250,000 in estimated post-judgment interest since the judgment was entered in 2006. Additionally, Cintas must pay $258,900 in civil penalties to be divided between the workers and the state of California. The Court also ordered Cintas to pay the workers’ legal fees and other costs associated with the litigation.
"Too many employers are violating living wage ordinances. This ruling is a victory not only for the workers at Cintas, and workers elsewhere covered by living wage laws, but for all those who care all those who care about improving standards for workers," said University of Massachusetts Associate Professor Stephanie Luce, author of Fighting for a Living Wage, who has studied and written extensively about living wage ordinances over the last decade.
In Los Angeles, Cintas workers have a similar pending class action case for violations of the city’s living wage. Over the past few years, questions have also been raised about Cintas’s history of compliance with living wage laws in Marin County and Santa Monica, California, as well as in Dayton, Ohio, and Madison, Wisconsin.
Cintas has a history of violating worker protection laws. The company settled an overtime case brought by delivery drivers in California for more than $10 million in 2002. Since then, thousands of drivers across the country have joined a national overtime class action suit against Cintas.
The launderer has received the largest proposed OSHA fine ever assessed in the service sector for safety violations surrounding the death of Eleazar Torres Gomez in Oklahoma. This spring Cintas was the subject of hearings in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives regarding recurring health and safety citations. Federal and state safety agencies have proposed more than $3 million in penalties for safety violations—including a Cal/OSHA citation in its Stockton, Gilroy and Vista laundries.
Cintas provides laundry, uniforms and other business services to 800,000 customers across North America. Since 2003, UNITE HERE and the Teamsters unions have supported Cintas workers’ fight for better, safer jobs through the Uniform Justice campaign. For more information, please visit www.uniformjustice.org and www.MakeCintasSafe.info.