All posts by Elana Levin of UNITE HERE

Living wage win! Workers get 1.65 mil in unpaid wages

(How about a bit of good news. – promoted by Julia Rosen)

Great news! The California Supreme Court has ordered anti-union employer the Cintas Corporation to pay hundreds of workers the $1.65 MILLION they were owed for their backbreaking labor in industrial laundries.  By violating the city of Hayward’s living wage regulations, Cintas illegally underpaid Northern California workers for years. Living wage regulations like Hayward’s require the city and certain firms with large city contracts to pay wages that reflect the local cost of living including a dollar extra per hour if the employer doesn’t provide health benefits.  

This is a huge win not just for the Cintas workers who will finally be paid the money they are owed but for but for the living wage movement as a whole. At one point in their suit Cintas’ lawyers claimed that living wage laws were unconstitutional. When workers filed the suit in 2003, it was one of the first attempts to enforce a living wage law through the courts. As plaintiff Francisa Amaral said:

“For five long years, Cintas refused to give us what was rightfully ours,” said Francisca Amaral, one of the suit’s plaintiffs. “They told us that we would get nothing. They spent millions of dollars to try to deny us our rights. The decision shows that workers can get justice and get what we’ve earned through our hard work.”

Why would a company spend money on lawyers to fight paying its workers a living wage? Wait. Don’t answer that. That was rhetorical. Though I honestly just don’t get it. I guess it’s my family values talking here.

Anyway, the Court’s decision allows more than 200 Northern California laundry workers to enforce a landmark judgment by the Alameda County Superior Court that was affirmed earlier this summer by the California Court of Appeal, which is believed to be the one of the largest living wage awards in U.S. history and strengthens cities’ ability to enforce local labor standards.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Cintas workers have a similar pending class action case for violations of the city’s living wage. Over the past few years, questions have also been raised about Cintas’s history of compliance with living wage laws in Marin County and Santa Monica, California, as well as in Dayton, Ohio, and Madison, Wisconsin.

If you’ve been reading my posts on Dkos (and other folks too) you’d know that Cintas has a history of violating worker protection laws. The company settled an overtime case brought by delivery drivers in California for more than $10 million in 2002. Since then, thousands of drivers across the country have joined a national overtime lawsuit against Cintas.

  * For more on Cintas check out: and

  * For more on the living wage movement check out the PBS’s POV series and podcasts here.

  * Progressive States Network has written about various state policies too

(Video clip is Springstein’s version of traditional work song “Pay Me My Money Down”)