For immediate release
April 1, 2008
Senators Kennedy, Murray, Brown and Obama Call for Stronger OSHA
WASHINGTON, April 1, 2008 – The Cintas Corp. was criticized today in a U.S. Senate hearing for having a dangerous pattern of disregarding worker safety. The hearing, held by the Employment and Workplace Protections Subcommittee of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, sought to hold leading corporations like Cintas accountable for repeated safety violations.
"What is most disturbing to me is that these tragedies are happening over and over again in the same industries. And they are happening far too often at the same companies — where workers are doing jobs that their employers know are dangerous and unsafe," stated Subcommittee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
Not even multiple citations and record breaking proposed penalties have persuaded Cintas to eliminate the kinds of violations that led to the March 2007 death of Tulsa, Oklahoma, worker Eleazar Torres Gomez. More than one year after this fatality, Cintas workers report they continue to face the same kinds of potentially lethal dangers in their plants. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is currently investigating these hazards in an Illinois Cintas laundry.
In addition to Cintas, Senators heard testimony about pork producer Smithfield Farms, garbage collector Waste Management, and residential construction developer Avalon Bay. While these employers are from vastly different industries, like Cintas, they have made choices that increased the risk of injury or illness to their workers.
The hearing also addressed OSHA’s failures to investigate and remedy corporate-wide health and safety violations as a result of ineffective enforcement tools and inadequate resources.
"Industry-backed appointees have weakened OSHA enforcement, eviscerated regulatory standards programs, and ignored emerging workplace hazards," wrote Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in a statement submitted to the Subcommittee.
"To prevent accidents, instead of only assigning blame afterward, OSHA needs to root out the source of these problems," said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), HELP Committee Chairman. "A broad-based approach to enforcement has the power to transform workplace accidents from senseless losses to catalysts for changes that save lives."
Witnesses made several suggestions to reform OSHA including passage of the Protecting America’s Workers Act. This bill would expand the protection of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, strengthen the agency’s ability to enforce the law and increase criminal penalties for the most egregious safety violations.
"OSHA and America’s working families need your help to send a clear message to negligent employers: Workers lives must be valued more than profits," Change to Win Health and Safety Coordinator Eric Frumin told senators. "The Protecting America’s Workers Act is a good first start. But much more is needed to prevent more families, like the Torres family in Tulsa, from mourning because of unsafe jobs."
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) agreed. "Workplace safety isn’t an option, it’s an imperative," he said. "American workers built this nation’s prosperity, and it is in our nation’s interest to protect their health and safety in the workplace."
Change to Win is a six million member partnership of seven unions founded in 2005 to represent workers in the industries and occupations of the 21st century economy. UNITE HERE and the Teamsters, both founding members of Change to Win, are standing with Cintas workers to gain better, safer jobs. For more information about Cintas workers’ efforts, visit http://www.uniformjustice.org and http://www.makeCINTASsafe.org. To see today’s hearing, go to http://help.senate.gov/Hearings/2008_04_01/2008_04_01.html.