ON THE PICKET LINE
By Sue Sandlin | June 13, 2003 | Page 11
SAN FRANCISCO--Executives from Cintas and Quebecor World nearly choked on their shrimp cocktails when labor activists stormed their fancy luncheon at the Moscone Center last week. Organizers from UNITE and Graphic Communications International Union (GCIU) passed out brochures that cleverly laid out the "dirty laundry" of the two corporations. And you can imagine the warm response to their blowing whistles and chants of "Tired of UNITE getting in your face? Then get some justice in this place!"
Quebecor, a rabidly anti-union printing company with plants all over the globe, was in town to present an industry award for "best business catalog" to fellow union-buster Cintas. Readers of Socialist Worker will be familiar with the UNITE organizing drive against Cintas, the largest industrial laundry in the country.
Cintas, a company that provides the uniforms worn by thousands of unionized workers in many industries, has long been known for its anti-union tactics against its own workers--hiring industrial psychologists and security goons to harass employees, intimidating immigrant workers with threats of reporting them to the federal government, paying sweatshop wages and not providing healthcare. "We are fighting for respect," said Gyda Garcia, a unionized laundry worker from Las Vegas who is in the Bay Area to help with the organizing drive. "When you have a union, you have a voice, better wages, health care. And we know that we can win these things if we stick together."
After security guards ejected them from the convention center, the activists joined a picket of about 40 organizers and community supporters who had come together to fight these two union busters. Chanting "Quebecor, Quebecor, rich and rude, We don't like your attitude!" and "Sweatshop wages, pensions suck, Come on Cintas, share your bucks!" picketers vowed to stay united and fight these union busters wherever they rear their ugly heads.
"We're here with a message for Cintas and Quebecor--as long as there is no justice for workers, there will be no peace!" said Eddie Rosario, the president of GCIU Local 4-N. "Quebecor operates globally, so the labor movement needs to be organized globally as well. We are working with labor federations around the world, as well as with other unions facing similar fights here in this country. These corporations see things like labor rights as 'trade barriers.' We're all fighting for safe work environments, we all need health care, and these contract fights are going to be just that--a real fight!"
Bill Madson, also of GCIU, told Socialist Worker about Donald Wilkerson, who was killed while working a giant shrink-wrap machine at a Quebecor plant in Tennessee. "The brother was killed because of unsafe working conditions," said Madson. "The plant did not have a proper 'tag-out' system, and so the machine was not properly shut off. The company does not abide by its legal obligations and does not train people properly."
GCIU Local 4 and UNITE only had a few days notice to organize the event, but when they heard the union-busters were going to be in town for this self-congratulatory event, they knew that they couldn't let these corporations show their faces in San Francisco without a challenge.
UNITE is dead serious about organizing Cintas and is developing a multi-pronged campaign to fight the company. Recognizing the viciousness of the company's anti-union tactics, as well as its reach across the country, UNITE has strategically decided to go for "direct recognition" rather than individual elections in individual shops. In the face of intense intimidation, workers have organized committees in workplaces throughout the Bay Area--five sites in all--and have reached out to other unions like GCIU, Teamsters, the United Auto Workers and the United Steel Workers of America for support.
UNITE researcher and organizer Jason Oringer told Socialist Worker about some of the dirty tricks Cintas has used against their workers who are trying to organize. "Cintas sent a memo to their employees saying that they had received 'no match' letters from the federal government and that they needed to 'clear this up right away.'"
"No-match" letters are warnings about discrepancies in social security numbers. "It was clearly an attempt to intimidate immigrant workers trying to organize. Three workers in San Jose have been fired. San Francisco employees are subjected to 'captive audience' meetings. This company is one of the most worker unfriendly companies around. And we're going to bring pressure against them from all directions."