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Press Center

For Immediate Release
January 23, 2009
Matt Painter
(646) 673-4999, mpainter@unitehere.org
Jason Oringer
(415) 203-7206, joringer@unitehere.org

Decision Expands Living Wage Coverage for Southern California Service Workers
California Court of Appeal strikes down minimum hour restriction on Los Angeles Living Wage Ordinance strengthening class action suit for 550 Southern California Cintas laundry workers.

LOS ANGELES—The California Court of Appeal removed restrictions limiting coverage under the city’s Living Wage Ordinance in a landmark decision this week. A panel of the Court unanimously issued a decision invalidating a regulation requiring that employees spend 20 hours per month on contracted work with the city to be covered. This week’s decision strengthens the class action lawsuit 550 Cintas laundry workers in Southern California have filed against Cintas Corporation for back wages.

“We believe that Cintas broke the law. Instead of paying workers the legally required wages, the company is paying its lawyers to fight against us,” said Hermalinda Aguiar, a named plaintiff in the suit and a 9-year employee at Cintas’ Pico Rivera facility. “We recently saw workers achieve justice and win their back wages in Northern California. This decision shows us that we are on the road to winning the back wages our families deserve.”

The decision concerns a 1999 regulation that limited the protection of the Los Angeles Living Wage Ordinance (LWO). The Los Angeles City Council passed the LWO in 1997, including clear and sweeping language that it applied to all workers who spent “any time” working on service contracts of more than $25,000 in value and three months in duration for the City of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the City Contract Administrator’s Office later adopted regulations that limited coverage to workers who spent more than 20 hours working on a covered contract and guaranteed the living wage only for hours worked on the contract itself, not the worker’s job. The result was effectively to deny meaningful living wage protection to hundreds or even thousands of workers in laundries, landscaping, recycling or other business that have a mix of public and private clients. The 1999 regulation would have split the plaintiffs in this lawsuit into two subclasses, those that worked over 20 hours and those who did not.

“I can think of no better symbol for the change poised to sweep our country in the coming months and years. Cintas has spent years denying workers their due, but time is running out,” said Cristina Vazquez, Manager, UNITE HERE Western States Regional Joint Board. “This victory is shared by thousands of other California laundry workers who have been watching this case closely for years.”

When workers filed the suit in 2004, it was one of the first attempts to enforce a living wage through the courts. Cintas held a contracting relationship to wash uniforms and other items, worth nearly $1 million per year, with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power from May 2000 until January 2004. The City was forced to terminate the contract for cause in January 2004, after Cintas refused to comply with the terms of the agreement. The City later sued Cintas for breach of contract and recovered $350,000 in a settlement which allowed the workers’ back wages suit to continue. In 2006, the City of Los Angeles filed an amicus brief in support of the workers case.

The appellate decision in Los Angeles comes on the heels of Cintas’ court-ordered disbursement of more the $1.6 million in back wages, interest and penalties to hundreds of Northern California Cintas workers and the State of California in a similar case for violations of the City of Hayward Living Wage Ordinance (Amaral v Cintas). The Alameda Superior Court granted summary judgment to workers in that case in 2006, but Cintas appealed to the California State Supreme Court, which denied review this summer. In its published Los Angeles decision, the Court of Appeal noted: “Although the Hayward LWO and the [Los Angeles] LWO are not identical, they are very similar, and Cintas has provided no persuasive reason for us to depart from the First District’s analysis in Amaral.”

Over the past few years, questions have also been raised about Cintas’s compliance with living wage laws in Marin County and Santa Monica, California, as well as in Dayton, Ohio, and Madison, Wisconsin.

Cintas provides laundry, uniforms and other business services to 800,000 customers across North America. Since 2003, UNITE HERE and the Teamsters unions have supported Cintas workers’ fight for better, safer jobs through the Uniform Justice campaign. For more information, please visit www.uniformjustice.org and www.MakeCintasSafe.info.

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