November 14, 2003

COLA Keeps Eye On Cintas, Statler

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The Cornell Organization for Labor Action, led by Joan Moriarty grad, presented a letter to Statler Managing Director Richard Adie yesterday in the hotel’s lobby regarding its purchasing agreement with the laundry and uniform provider Cintas.

“Here’s the letter of demands you requested, in writing — we’re not going to go away until this is resolved,” Moriarty said to Adie as she handed him the letter.

COLA then led Adie to the lobby entrance, where he peered across the traffic circle to view a banner hung minutes before from the old Ives building that read, “Hey Statler, Drop Cintas Now.” Adie glanced at the banner and quickly returned to the Statler lobby, declining to comment at that time.

Cintas, the largest supplier of uniforms in North America, is also the uniform provider for the Statler. According to the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, which has attempted to organize Cintas and works with campus activists nationwide including COLA, lawsuits have been filed against Cintas concerning overtime pay and discrimination, and numerous complaints have been filed concerning its health and safety practices.

“As Cornell students, we are upset that our institution associates itself with a corporation that has such an appalling record of labor, health and safety, employment discrimination and environmental abuses,” the letter read.

The aftermath of the most recent COLA protest against Cintas remains to be seen, but the group received a subtle yet clearly directed reprimand from Cintas following their actions at the most recent Cornell Career Fair. At the fair, COLA members dropped dirty laundry at the feet of Cintas representatives to symbolize what they perceive to be Cintas’s unfair labor practices.

In response, Cintas’s previously open information session planned for Nov. 9 in the Yale/Princeton Room of the Statler was changed to invitation-only. Yet according to two COLA members who tried to attend, they were turned away because of their pro-union activities.

COLA members Hillary Corrigan ’04 and Josh Herbst grad were refused entrance to the info session by a Cintas representative and Demetra Dentes, senior associate director of Cornell Career Services.

“Honestly, I just wanted to sit in on their info session. I’m a student, and I only know one side of the story,” Corrigan said. “The fact that they would bar somebody for their political affiliation or past work experiences clearly violates my rights as a student.”

While Corrigan and Herbst were denied, COLA members Iris Packman ’06 and Alex Rakow found no difficulty gaining access.

“We just walked right through, and I don’t know if it had something to do with our appearance or not or just that we were acting confident, but they didn’t stop us,” Packman said.

To Dentes’ knowledge, no other students besides Herbst and Corrigan were turned away.

“[Corrigan] got caught in a place where I think she felt discriminated against because she probably already knew the other COLA people were in the room and thought that this was a conscious attempt on our part to block her from coming in,” Dentes said.

By the time Corrigan arrived, a more senior Cintas representative was manning the entrance and was refusing admittance to anyone not on the invite list.

“The bottom line is that there was a little bit of a difference in the Cintas reps’ treatment and this particular one said, ‘No, this student is not going to be allowed in.’ The earlier Cintas reps had been a little more lenient and said, ‘OK you can come in,’ and then the last one arrived who happened to be the lead and said, ‘No we’re sticking to the rules and this person can’t come in,'” said Rebecca Sparrow, director of Cornell Career Services.

Herbst’s beard and self-proclaimed “somewhat shaggy hair” may have been the catalyst for Dentes denying his entrance.

“It did happen that I stopped [Herbst] down at the entrance who didn’t look like the typical student would dress,” Dentes said.

She said she went to check with the lead Cintas representative to see if she could invite Herbst in, but when she returned, Herbst had disappeared.

According to COLA member Ellen Stutzman, the group wanted to attend the Cintas information session not to stir up trouble but to ask questions and inform others.

“We wanted to educate students who are potentially looking for a job to say, ‘Hey, FYI, this is what this company does,'” Stutzman said. “For COLA, as part of our campaign, we want them to know that we’re not going away, that we know they’re coming and that they’re on our campus and they know that we don’t want them to be there,” she added.

Information sessions usually serve more as opportunities for companies to sell themselves to prospective employees rather than as opportunities to present unbiased information, according to Sparrow.

“Frankly, it’s unlikely that a company is going to present all sides of every issue they’re involved in,” she said. “Every single employer who comes to campus tries to present themselves in the most positive light, so it’s really incumbent on students to learn the total picture before making the decision to go to work for someone.”

Corrigan continues to view the situation as a violation of her personal rights.

“It made me sick how stupid they were not to let me into that info session. What threat was I posing by going into that info session that they had to blacklist me?” she said.

According to Sparrow, there was no explicit blacklist based on students’ activist pasts. Corrigan has expressed her distaste for the situation in a letter sent to President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 and Edward J. Lawler, dean of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, among others.

Archived article by Clark Merrefield