Nora Castrejon, at age 44, is a production worker at the Cintas plant in Schaumburg. A conscientious
and punctual employee, she is struggling to make ends meet even after 15 years of work. Like more
than 40 million of America's workers, Nora and her fellow workers in Schaumburg want a union. They
want safe working conditions, respect, and a decent wage. With $2.69 billion in sales, Cintas is the
largest uniform rental provider and industrial launderer in the United States, and is vigorously
resisting the desires of its employees to form unions.
Many Cintas workers fall below the federal poverty line, and Cintas has been cited many times by
Occupational Safety and Health Administration for violating federal health and safety laws. Early in
2003, the Schaumburg workers, together with employees at other Cintas facilities across the country,
began a campaign to join the union UNITE! and the Teamsters union. The company's response has been
typical: They strongly resisted the will of their employees, using legal and illegal means to
prevent the workers from coming together in a union. Now the federal government has issued
complaints against Cintas for violating workers' rights.
Employer tactics range from using surveillance to identify pro-union employees, to forcing employees
to attend closed, mandatory anti-worker meetings. Employers often threaten to close or relocate
plants, and intimidate or actually fire employees actively working to form a union. Such violations
of employees' rights are so common that Human Rights Watch, an organization that monitors abuses of
human rights around the world, has declared the United States to be in violation of fundamental
''These abuses we found constitute a huge obstacle to workers' choices to try to form a labor union.
There is an urgent need for Congress to take action to restore fairness in our labor relations and
to improve respect for this basic right of our nation's workers,'' said executive director Ken Roth.
When employers deny workers their freedom to collective bargaining in a union, it dramatically
impacts workers, their families, and their communities. Across the board, workers in a union earn 26
percent higher wages, 55 percent greater pension benefits, and 26 percent better health benefits.
The discrepancies are especially large for women, people of color and immigrant workers. Strong
unions mean good jobs, which in turn helps the local economy and creates a deeper tax base.
A promising start to the restoration of America's workers' freedom to form a union is the Employee
Free Choice Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Representatives George Miller
(D-Calif.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.), and recently introduced into Congress. The treatment of workers
is a civil issue requiring political solutions. The new bill is an example of the kind of
legislation we need to ensure that Nora Castejon receives fair treatment from Cintas, and that
employees across the United States feel free to act on their desires to improve their working
conditions and gain a say in their workplace by forming a union.
Today, tens of thousands of workers across the country will commemorate International Human Rights
Day by proclaiming that ''Workers' Rights Are Human Rights.'' It has been 55 years since Eleanor
Roosevelt joined representatives from most U.N. countries in signing the International Declaration
of Human Rights, which guarantees our most cherished rights, including the freedoms of speech,
religion and association, and unequivocally states that every person has the right to form a union
for the protection of their interests.
In 21st century America, we cannot tolerate workers being lied to, harassed, spied on and fired for
trying to form a union. Nora Castejon deserves a living wage. She deserves the right to a voice in
her workplace. She deserves the right to negotiate wages, conditions and benefits. In theory, she
has those rights. In practice, she doesn't.
John Sweeney is president of the AFL-CIO.
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