Good News! Court orders Largest Living Wage Award in U.S. History to Workers

I’ve written about Uniform Justice before.  An earlier diary I wrote that about  Uniform Justiceyou may recall is Did Eleazar Torres-Gomez Lose his Life for Company Profits?  

Today, I have good news.  A panel of the California Court of Appeal ordered the Cintas Corporation to pay more than $1.18 million in back wages and interest to hundreds of Northern California workers for violating the city of Hayward’s Living Wage Ordinance.  This judgment likely is the largest living wage award in U.S. history.

“Cintas had a moral and legal obligation to pay workers a living wage, but they ignored it.” says UNITE HERE General President Bruce Raynor.  “The company would rather fight workers tooth and nail than pay them what they deserve.”


They fought tooth and nail, but lost to 219 workers.  It’s a great victory for working people.

More, after the fold.

Also on Daily Kos:…

Workers at Cintas Corporation began organizing with UNITE HERE and the Teamsters in 2003.

This company has a long history and some of it is not so good:

Cintas has a history of violating worker protection laws, including anti-discrimination, wage and hour, and safety laws. The company settled an overtime case brought by delivery drivers in California for more than $10 million in 2002. Since then, thousands of drivers across the country have joined a national overtime class action suit against Cintas.

The launderer has received the largest proposed OSHA fine ever assessed in the service sector for safety violations surrounding the death of Eleazar Torres Gomez in Oklahoma. This spring Cintas was the subject of hearings in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives regarding recurring health and safety citations. The company faces more than $3 million in penalties from federal and state safety agencies — including a Cal/OSHA citation in its Stockton laundry.

Yahoo News

“Federal safety officials have called for a $2.78 million penalty against the Cintas Corporation, the nation’s largest supplier of uniforms, for violations at its Tulsa plant, where a worker died when he was pulled into a large dryer.”

Did Eleazar Torres-Gomez Lose his Life for Company Profits?

Mr. Torres-Gomez’ son Emmanuel Torres-Gomez, came to Capitol Hill to endorse the Protecting America’s Workers Act last year and talked about his father’s death:

On March 6, 2007, my father was killed while working at a Cintas laundry in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was reportedly dragged into an industrial dryer by a conveyor belt. This has been devastating for us. In 2005, the Occupational Safety and Health  Administration fined Cintas for not putting guards on a dryer at a laundry in New York. The equipment that was unguarded in that case was similar to the  equipment involved in my father’s death. If the company had added the guards, which it knew was required by OSHA, my father would be alive today

My father’s death was preventable.

Did Eleazar Torres-Gomez Lose his Life for Company Profits?

In April 1999, the City of Hayward, California passed a living wage law that required employers to pay higher wages to workers who worked on city contracts.  From July 1999 through the end of June 2003, various Cintas entities had contracts with the City for uniform and linen services.

See Opinion in Amaral v. Cintas

From my reading of the Appellate Court opinion, it is unclear whether Cintas understood it was required to pay a living wage, even though it signed serveral purchase orders and repeatedly check marked the box stating it would comply with the living wage law.  Failure to do so would have resulted in the cancellation of the contract by the City. See Cal. Ct. of Appeal Opinion in Amaral v. Cintas, at pp. 4-5  From the facts written in the judicial opinion, it appears that in or about May 2003, local Cintas officals noticed the provision and realized that it required them to pay the living wage to employees.  Id. Rather than agreeing to pay the living wage, Cintas cancelled the Hayward contract in July 2003.  Id.  But Cintas did not pay the workers back pay for the period of July 1999 through end of June 2003 in which they were entitled to the Hayward living wage under the Hayward Living Wage Ordinance.  Id.  Instead, the fought it.  

When workers filed the suit in 2003 in Alemeda County, it was one of the first attempts to enforce a living wage law through the courts. In 2005, the Superior Court in Alemeda County found in favor of the 219 workers and awarded $805,243 in back wages plus $375,000 in interest.  That amount has now grown with post-judgment interest.  Cintas also was ordered to pay $258,900 in civil penalties to be divided between the workers and the state of California.  The Court also ordered Cintas to pay the workers’ legal fees and other costs associated with the litigation.  

In what is thought to be the first case of its kind, a California judge last Friday ordered one of the world’s largest laundry goods suppliers to pay over $1 million to settle a claim brought by its Haywood employees under the city’s living wage ordinance.

UNITE HERE, the union representing the workers, termed the ruling “historic” and vowed to continue its battle to force the company, Cintas, to abide by living wage laws.

This is a huge victory for Cintas workers in Northern California, with powerful implications for their co-workers all over North America,” UNITE HERE President Bruce Raynor said in a press statement. “This case exemplifies how Cintas treats workers: They disregard the wage and hour laws, which are the bedrock responsibilities a company has to its workers.”


Last week’s ruling by Superior Court Judge Stephen Brick held that Hayward’s living wage law, which requires companies doing business with the city to pay employees $10.71 an hour or $9.26 if they provide health insurance, is constitutional.

NewsStandard, 9/28/05

This week, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment for the workers.  

Cal. Ct. of Appeal Opinion in Amaral v. Cintas

The judgment against Cintas in Hayward represents the largest scale employer violation I’ve seen of a living wage law in the United States,” said Paul Sonn, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project and one of the country’s leading experts on living wage litigation.

“I’m so happy about this victory,” said Francisca Amaral, a former Cintas worker and one of the suit’s plaintiffs. “Cintas told us that we would get nothing.  This decision shows that workers can get justice and get what we’ve earned.”  Ms. Amaral left the company because of disabling work-related injuries.  After 13 years of service, she was paid $8.40 an hour.  


According to Uniform Justice, Cintas workers have a similar pending class action case for violations of the Los Angeles living wage.  

This is good news for working folks.  Here’s why people are joining the union.  It makes a real difference in bettering their day-to-day lives.  Dignity and respect, along with benefits and better wages.  

A Cintas worker in North Carolina, Raquel Cruz, below discusses why she wants a union, and how she overcame her fear of standing together with her co-workers

Learn more about Uniform Justice here, and see


Unions, congregations, student groups, business owners – anyone who cares about how people are treated at work – can help Cintas workers.

Sometimes the good guys and gals win.  This is one of those times.  

1 comment

    • TomP on June 13, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    Uniform Justice and a living wage for workers.  

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