Saturday, September 6, 2003

Union blows more hot air than Cintas laundry dryers

Peter Bronson

At the Cintas uniform laundry in Milford, shirts and pants march in columns, jerked along on overhead tracks by computer-coded hangers that take them exactly where they are supposed to go. They look almost alive.

If Big Labor gets its way, Cintas workers will also get jerked around and march in columns, down the union track without any choice - as if they are as empty as fresh-pressed shirts.

"That is the essence of what this whole thing is all about,'' said Cintas CEO Scott Farmer. "They want to make a deal with me to put all these people in a union without giving them any decision. That's wrong. It shouldn't be right for me, as CEO, to make that decision for my employees.''

Unite Organizing Director Liz Gres said her union opposes an election because Cintas workers have been terrorized and are too afraid to vote, even on secret ballots.

She wants Cintas, one of Cincinnati's biggest companies, to certify Unite to represent about 17,000 workers nationwide. Unite wants to bypass federal labor laws that require an election.

"Labor laws are not protecting workers,'' said Gres, who calls Cintas a sweatshop that pays poverty-level wages.

But maybe the union leaders should ask the workers.

"I'll vote for a union right after I start dating Carmen Electra," said four-year employee Bob Burns of Sharonville. "They just want a big target and Cintas is it. I don't think anything is going to be improved with union involvement. It promotes laziness."

Marvin Kitchen of Kennedy Heights started out as a Cintas custodian 14 years ago and worked his way up to sales rep. He once worked for a union company. "The union situation always seemed to bog things down," he said. "It didn't help the flow of business. And then you see the union rep pull up in a big Lincoln and you wonder where the money goes."

Cintas has copies of petitions from workers at some of its 365 job sites nationwide. Gres says the petitions were coerced by supervisors. But they sound a lot like the workers I talked to. The petitions ask Unite to stop harassing workers, because "we don't want any changes, we have all the benefits we need."

Cintas calls its workers "partners" for good reason. They can get health care coverage for as little as $6.43 per week. They also get profit sharing, employee stock and a 401(k). Wages start around $7-$8 an hour, said spokesman Wade Gates, but those who move up to become drivers can earn $45,000 to $50,000 a year.

The floors at the Milford plant were cleaner than some hospitals I've seen. On a typical day, 45,000 pounds of clothing is washed, dried, steamed, inspected, sorted and led away by those homing-pigeon hangers. If workers are sweating, they're doing it in an air-conditioned shop.

It looks nothing like the lurid picture of oppression described by union leaders at a Labor Day rally.

"They're desperate," Gates said. "Unite is losing 7,000 members a year."

Unions are shrinking like a sweater in an industrial clothes dryer. And the reason is companies like Cintas that take good care of their "partners".

Cintas workers don't need to be jerked around or hung out to dry on union-label hangers. They know what they want. Just give them a vote and the unions will be all washed up.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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