For Immediate Release
December 19, 2008
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Leaves Many Workers Unprotected, Illustrates Urgent Need for OSHA Reform
WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2008—In the final weeks of Republican control of Washington, the Bush Administration's OSHA has entered into a nearly toothless settlement agreement with Cintas over lethal violations in its laundries. The agreement attempts to resolve six OSHA cases relating to citations against Cintas for safety hazards at laundry facilities across the country, including hazards that led to the March 2007 death of Cintas worker Eleazar Torres Gomez.
Unsafe conditions at Cintas have garnered nationwide media attention and the largest penalty in the service industry. Unfortunately, the agreement not only downgrades the severity of the 43 “willful” violations issued against Cintas since last spring, but also allows for a two-year delay in many plants across the country in guarding the kind of machines which caused the death of Eleazar Torres Gomez. Torres Gomez was pulled by a conveyor into a 300-degree industrial dryer and trapped for 20 minutes, dying of trauma and thermal injuries. The settlement agreement also does not provide any OSHA schedule for oversight and inspections. Cintas workers will be deciding 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 four years,” said Juan Arroyo, a twenty-year employee who works in the wash alley at the company’s laundry in Bedford Park, Illinois, where Cintas was cited just four 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 fifteen 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.
Cintas workers throughout North America are standing with UNITE HERE and the Teamsters to gain better, safer jobs. Currently, both unions represent roughly 400 Cintas workers. For more information, please visit www.MakeCintasSafe.org and www.uniformjustice.org.
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