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Uniformly Evil: Cintas’ Long Trail of Ruin

December 2, 2009

Cintas Corporation, the nation’s largest uniform supplier and laundry services provider settled a lawsuit last week over workplace safety violations that resulted in injuries, deaths, and unsafe conditions for its 34,000 employees. A lawsuit filed by the family of an employee who died in 2007 after being dragged by a conveyor belt into a 300 degree drying oven at a company facility in Oklahoma is ongoing. The company also this August paid $22.75 million for failing to pay overtime to hundreds of its delivery drivers in a suit filed in 2003.

In a report on the death of Cintas employee Eleazar Torres-Gomez, the Cincinnati City Beat reported earlier this year that “Internal company memos cited at a Congressional hearing revealed that company officials knew about the dangers posed by the conveyor belts and had close calls before but never installed protective guardrails that could have prevented the incident.”

In addition to these violations, the company was cited for over 170 safety violations since 2003, including more than 70 that could have resulted in “death or serious physical harm.” The company paid nearly $200,000 in penalties for the illegal conditions, including more than $30,000 for repeat violations. OSHA initially fined Cintas $2.78 million for the incident, but under the Bush Labor Department, the fine was reduced to $2.76 million and was consolidated in a settlement that combined several other workplace safety violations.

Cintas has been dirtier than a soiled kitchen rag long before the 2007 worker’s death. After the Terry Manufacturing company declared bankruptcy in 2003, Cintas was accused of establishing the company as front in order to win the lucrative McDonald’s uniform business. A bankruptcy trustee accused Cintas of “preparing bogus financial statements, violating their fiduciary duties and “conspiring” with Terry Manufacturing to deceive creditors.” The company paid $9.5 million to settle the suit.

In addition to fraud, labor violations, and workplace safety crimes, the company is notorious for water pollution around its laundry plants, undermining local living-wage laws, and overbilling customers (including the US government). A Cintas sweatshop in Haiti has been called “one of the worst in the Western Hemisphere,” and cited for paying workers below the legal minimum wage of 22 cents per hour, forcing overtime, firing without due process, loan-shark activities by managers, and hazardous conditions, including lack of safety equipment, no ventilation, and no access to purified drinking water.

Cintas Board Chair Richard T. Farmer has an estimated net worth of $1.5 billion. Farmer was the country’s third-largest individual political donor from 1999-2003, and in 2004 was a “Bush Ranger” for raising at least $200,000 for George W. Bush’s reelection. Richard’s son, CEO Scott Farmer, took home nearly $6.9 million in the past five years.

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