OSHA, Cintas Settle Pending Federal Cases

OSHA has reached an agreement with Cintas Inc. that the company will pay almost $3 million in penalties to resolve six cases currently pending before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. While OSHA contends that the agreement ensures the safety and protections of Cintas workers, the labor union UNITE HERE argues the settlement is insufficient and is “no substitute for strict enforcement of our nation's workplace safety laws.”

All of the cases involve citations OSHA issued to Cintas for failing to lock out hazardous energy sources on industrial laundry equipment while employees were servicing the equipment. One case arose from OSHA's investigation of a fatal March 2007 accident in which Cintas worker Eleazar Torres Gomez fell into a dryer while attempting to correct a jammed conveyor.

"This agreement ensures that Cintas employees in federal OSHA states nationwide will receive the protections mandated by OSHA's standards," said acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Thomas M. Stohler. "Cintas also has agreed to a number of other measures that will help create a more safety-conscious corporate culture. This settlement agreement makes such measures binding on the company."

Under the agreement, Cintas will pay 90 percent of the amount originally proposed, and make substantial safety and health enhancements at all of its commercial laundry facilities regulated by federal OSHA. The agreement also requires Cintas to certify that it has implemented immediate interim measures to protect employees working in the wash areas at these Cintas facilities.

The company will retain a team of independent experts, including an auditor who will ensure that the interim controls are effective; an expert in hazard analysis and controls who will review Cintas facilities and recommend permanent controls; and additional experts who will review Cintas' safety and health management systems to recommend improvements to those systems.

According to OSHA, those improvements will include hiring additional professional safety and health staff, conducting more frequent internal safety inspections, establishing new systems to examine safety and health complaints and accident trends and providing increased training to Cintas management and employees. OSHA will continue to inspect Cintas facilities and will enforce the terms of this settlement agreement.

UNITE HERE Speaks Up

The labor union UNITE HERE, however, says this agreement will leave many workers unprotected and not only downgrades the severity of the 43 willful violations issued against Cintas since last spring, but also allows for a 2-year delay in many plants across the country in guarding the kind of machines which caused the death of Gomez in March 2007.

The settlement agreement also does not provide any OSHA schedule for oversight and inspections, the union explained. Cintas workers decide whether to file formal objections to the settlement in early 2009.

"Cintas has been cited for these problems time and time again, and has acknowledged these problems internally for years. That's why OSHA should be strictly monitoring the company, but there are no plans for follow-up inspections in the agreement. The remedies in this settlement are no substitute for strict enforcement of our nation's workplace safety laws," said Eric Frumin, health and safety director of UNITE HERE. "It comes as no surprise that the Bush administration squeezed this in during the final weeks of its tenure."

"Cintas has known about these dangers for at least 4 years," said Juan Arroyo, a 20-year employee who works in the wash alley at the company's laundry in Bedford Park, Ill., where Cintas was cited just 4 months ago for similar hazards. "I'm deeply disappointed that the agreement gives the company so much time to fix them permanently."

An internal memo made public by Congress this spring shows that the company has been aware of these dangers since at least 2004.

Cintas employees in 15 states covered by state OSHA plans remain unprotected by this agreement, even though inspectors in three states have also found the kinds of hazards that led to the fatality in five separate facilities since March 2007. Federal and state inspectors have issued citations in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington since Torres Gomez's death.

Currently, UNITE HERE and the Teamsters represent roughly 400 Cintas workers. For more information, visit http://www.MakeCintasSafe.org and http://www.uniformjustice.org.
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