Lawmaker: Cintas Lets Safety Improvements Slide

April 25, 2008
According to Democratic legislator Phil Hare from Illinois, Cintas Corp. still has not taken the necessary steps to correct the safety hazards that killed Eleazar Torres Gomez, who died after falling into an industrial dryer at the company's Tulsa, Okla., plant in March 2007.

During a news teleconference before a hearing on OSHA's role in enforcing workplace safety at companies such as Cintas, Hare said he hoped Congressional hearings could shed some light “on this company's deplorable record on workplace safety” and offer solutions to prevent fatal injuries in the workplace.

“This company made an awful lot of money last year, and, for the life of me, continues to do nothing to help their employees remain safe and be able to go to work," Hare said. "This is a company who, I think, goes out of their way and would rather pay a fine than keep their workers safe."

Hare was joined by Reps. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.; Tim Bishop, D-N.Y.; Donald Payne, D-N.J.; and Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., who also urged the company to address the safety hazards.

Woolsey, chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, said she was “outraged” that Cintas initially blamed Torres Gomez for his own death. She and Hare also expressed irritation during the hearing that Cintas officials declined to testify due to “scheduling conflicts.”

“I find it extremely difficult, and I am more than angry that they couldn't take the time out of their busy schedules to come to this hearing," Hare said.

Cintas Workers Speak Out

Five former and current Cintas workers discussed the working conditions at the company, recounting long hours, poor pay and exhausting work. Woolsey noted that most of the workers are either Hispanics or African Americans and often are given “the least appealing” jobs without receiving the training necessary to carry out their duties in a safe manner.

Ana Ventura, who has worked in Cintas's Bedford Park, Ill., laundry facility for more than 11 years, complains that her daily quota of hanging 1,866 shirts a day resulted in multiple surgeries. “We work under a lot of pressure to do more production,” she said. “When I get home, I am so tired that I am not able to do anything.”

Maria Espinosa, who works in Cintas's San Jose, Calif., laundry facility, explained that the company uses a color-coded system to scrutinize the workers' production pace. When workers miss their quota, management puts their names on a red bulletin board. Workers' names go on yellow boards if they're close to quota and green if they're making or exceeding it.

“These color sheets were put in place to pressure us and make people feel embarrassed that they are in ‘red,’” Espinosa said. “To avoid the shame of getting the red color is why people rush and get hurt.”

Cintas Denies Claims

Cintas, however, released a statement arguing that the company has been unfairly characterized as unsafe. “Recent broad and sweeping characterizations of Cintas to be less than fully committed to our employees-partners safety are completely inaccurate. We have always been committed to the safety and well-being of all our employee-partners,” the statement read.

Cintas added that its safety record was “approximately 20 percent better than other comparably sized facilities for the previous three years as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

However, Torres Gomez's son, Emmanuel Torres, who testified at the April 22 hearing, argued that the procedures his father followed seemed to be standard practice company-wide. Torres Gomez climbed onto a moving conveyor belt to clear a jam of clothes on the shuttle before getting dragged into the dryer. And OSHA's investigation, which included a review of security tapes, revealed that workers at the Tulsa plant engaged in similar activities during the several weeks prior to the incident.

“The fact that Cintas blamed my father for what truly is a company-wide problem is wrong,” Torres said.

For more on the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee hearing on improving workplace safety, read Cintas Death Calls into Question OSHA Enforcement.

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