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Sweet Victory: Cintas Workers Win Big | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Sweet Victory: Cintas Workers Win Big

In 1999 Cintas Corp, the largest uniformrental provider in the country, signed a contract with Hayward,California to become the officiallaunderer of the city's uniforms. As a condition in the contract,Cintas agreed to comply with Hayward's living wage ordinance. Problemwas, Cintas didn't comply--in fact, for the next four years it paidworkers far less than Hayward's requirement.

It was a long time coming, but Cintas employees have finally gottentheir fair share. On September 23, an Alameda County judge orderedthe uniform giant to pay 219 workers more than $1 million of backwages in what is being hailed as a landmark decision. Paul Sonn ofNYU's Brennan Center for Justice, called it "the first large scaleenforcement effort involving a large group of workers in a classaction suit."

When workers filed suit against Cintas in 2003, the company backed outof its contract with Hayward and refused to pay the back wages.Cintas, whose headquarters lie in Cincinnati, Ohio, argued thatHawyard's living wage ordinance carried no weight beyond city lines.But judge Steven Brick upheld the living wage law and allowed the caseto proceed, stating "Just as cities have permissibly enactedrequirements that city contractors have an affirmative action plan orprovide equal benefits to employees' domestic partners, the city ofHayward can require that its service contractors pay their employeeswho perform work on a contract with the city to be paid at the ratesset forth in the living wage ordinance."

The verdict not only provides an immediate boost to the plaintiffsbut will also strengthen the resolve of communities in Marin County,Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Dayton, Ohio--all cities who arechallenging Cintas for flouting living wage ordinances. "There are 130living wage laws under the books, but much less enforcement thanthat," says Jason Oringer of UNITEHERE! "Contractors were not paying a hell of a lot of attention theseordinances before this. It's a huge victory for low-wage workers."

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