Cintas Corp. was hit with a double-whammy this week as federal workplace safety regulators issued another citation against the firm, while the company's final appeal in a California case was rejected — a decision that will cost Cintas nearly $2 million.
A citation from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was made public this week that states workers at a Cintas facility in a Chicago suburb regularly faced hazards that created a "substantial probability (of) death or serious injury."
Cintas failed to develop and use life-saving "lockout" procedures to protect workers from machinery at its Bedford Park industrial laundry, according to the citation. Workers there filed a complaint about dangerous equipment in March.
Bedford Park is the 10th Cintas facility to be cited by regulators in just more than a year.
OSHA imposed a $2.78 million fine against Cintas last year for violations that led to the death of Eleazar Torres-Gomez at the company’s laundry facility near Tulsa, Okla., in March 2007. Gomez died after he jumped onto a conveyor belt to dislodge clothes and was dragged into an industrial dryer, where he burned to death.
Federal and state inspectors have issued citations against Cintas facilities in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Texas and Washington.
Since 2003 Cintas has been cited for more than 170 OSHA violations in its facilities, including more than 70 citations that OSHA deemed could cause “death or serious physical harm.”
Cintas has paid nearly $200,000 in initial penalties, including more than $30,000 in penalties for “repeated” violations of the same identical standards in multiple company locations.
In fact, Cintas has been cited for more than twice as many workplace safety violations as have its three largest competitors combined, according to a lawsuit filed by one of Cintas’ institutional shareholders. The pending suit, filed by the Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust, alleges the firm’s board of directors isn’t fulfilling its fiduciary duties and fosters a corporate culture that ignores safety regulations.
Despite the record, Cintas representatives say the company has adequate safety procedures and blame the accidents on workers who don't follow their training on how to handle machinery.
Also this week, Cintas learned it must pay more than $1.65 million in back wages, interest and penalties for violating a “living wage” law in Hayward, Calif., after the California Supreme Court rejected the company’s appeal.
More than 200 Northern California laundry workers will be affected by the decision, which experts say is one of the largest living wage awards in U.S. history and will strengthen cities’ ability to enforce local labor standards.
Cintas workers filed the lawsuit in 2003 in an attempt to enforce the city of Hayward’s living wage law. The law required employers to pay higher wages to workers who worked on city contracts. That means employees without health insurance should have been paid $10.71 per hour. Instead of paying the living wage, Cintas cancelled the city’s contract.
The company fought against paying workers the required wage, unsuccessfully raising many constitutional and procedural challenges to the workers' lawsuit.
The 2005 judgment $805,243 in back wages plus $375,000 in interest to 219 workers, including current and former employees from Cintas’ San Leandro and Union City laundries.
The final amount will be higher because more than $250,000 in interest has accrued over the past three years while Cintas fought the ruling, according to a statement issued by the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), an organization trying to unionize Cintas workers.
Additionally, Cintas must pay $258,900 in civil penalties, which will be split between the workers and the state of California. The court further ordered Cintas to pay the workers’ legal fees and other costs associated with the litigation.
Based in Mason, Ohio, Cintas is the largest uniform supplier in the United States. Cintas reported $531 million in profits for the 2008 fiscal year, which ended in May.
— Kevin Osborne