News :: [none]

Reportback on Blacksburg anti-Cintas actions

When Cintas Corp. decided to sponsor Virginia Tech's "Big Event", a community service day for students, they didn't expect to be met by local activists and labor groups using the opportunity to protest Cintas's miserable labor and environmental record. Excerpts from the weekend's actions:

"(Friday) April 8, 2005: Twenty-two activists held a hastily organized rally in downtown Blacksburg to raise awareness of Cintas' anti-equality/anti-worker/anti-environment practices.... Our activities have succeeded in creating a minor controversy around Cintas's involvement in the Big Event...."

"Saturday (April 9, 2005). Five of us met at the university armed with anti-Cintas leaflets that the Teamsters had shipped to us overnight. As we moved through the crowds of students and handed out flyers we told them that although we fully supported the Big Event, we felt they should know that their sponsor is currently being sued by the EEOC for discrimination.... [A]s representatives of Cintas' management were gathering to distribute Big Event t-shirts with the company's logo, it was time to change tactics. We started approaching the Cintas employees, preferably within earshot of the Tech students, with questions such as, 'Can you please tell me more about the EEOC lawsuit against Cintas which cites discrimination against women' or 'Can you comment on the sweatshops that Cintas operates in Honduras?'"


(Friday) April 8, 2005: Twenty-two activists held a hastily organized rally in downtown Blacksburg to raise awareness of Cintas' anti-equality/anti-worker/anti-environment practices. Cintas, the largest uniform distribution company in the country, is sponsoring the Big Event, an annual community service day that sends over a thousand Virginia Tech students out to complete volunteer service projects.

Our activities have succeeded in creating a minor controversy around Cintas's involvement in the Big Event. More than one half of the Roanoke Times article about the Big Event was devoted to the issue of Cintas and its labor and environmental practices. The article quoted Margaret Breslau, one of the rally organizers. It also quoted Cintas spokeman, Wade Gates, who said that the protests stem from a two-year battle with unions and noted that 700 of its 30,000 workers are unionized (almost 2.5 percent!). Not surprisingly, he failed to mention that Cintas is currently facing NLRB charges for dozens of violations of workers' organizing rights. Nor did he mention that Cintas is not living up to its bargaining agreements with its unionized workers.

Rally participants carried signs that read, "Cintas=Discrmination" and "Cintas: Pro Community? Anti-Worker!" and "Uniform Justice". Rally participants included members of Amnesty International, the Green Party, New River Living Wage, Virginia Anti-War Network, and DROP (Direct Resistance of Privilege Alliance) as well as faculty, community residents, and Teamster union organizer Mark Barbour. We all agreed that as long as Cintas sponsors the Big Event and does not change its practices we would make this an annual event as well.


The rally lasted an hour without any particular disturbances but what we were really waiting for was the opportunity to talk to students as they gathered at Tech on Saturday morning about Cintas and to approach Cintas' employees and ask them about their practices.

Saturday (April 9, 2005). Five of us met at the university armed with anti-Cintas leaflets that the Teamsters had shipped to us overnight. As we moved through the crowds of students and handed out flyers we told them that although we fully supported the Big Event, we felt they should know that their sponsor is currently being sued by the EEOC for discrimination. We had 500 flyers and we handed out most of hem. None of the students knew about Cintas history although many of them had read the Roanoke Times article and knew about our concerns.

As we expected, the campus police politely informed us that we were not allowed to pass out flyers. We were happy to comply, since we had already saturated the crowd. Also, as representatives of Cintas' management were gathering to distribute Big Event t-shirts with the company's logo, it was time to change tactics. We started approaching the Cintas employees, preferably within earshot of the Tech students, with questions such as, "Can you please tell me more about the EEOC lawsuit against Cintas which cites discrimination against women" or "Can you comment on the sweatshops that Cintas operates in Honduras?" Some of them showed surprise, most turned their back on us and when one woman chose to look at the flyer, her husband, another Cintas employee, yanked her away from us.

As an action of counter-greenwashing, we felt that we had succeeded in turning what was a PR opportunity for this corporate offender into an opportunity to get out the real story about Cintas.