April 5, 2004

Students Rally Against Cintas

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“We gotta beat back the Cintas attack! We gotta beat, beat back, the Cintas attack!”

Last Friday at 3 p.m., a group of about 40 students gathered in front of Day Hall to rally against Cornell’s continuing association with the Cintas corporation, which provides uniforms to the Statler Hotel.

Cornell Organizaton for Labor Action (COLA), organized the hour-long rally with support from other student and local organizations representing labor interests. The protesters opposed the labor and environmental practices of Cintas. They hoped to raise the campus consciousness of the corporation’s continuing presence and to demonstrate their desire for change to the University administration.

Members of COLA and representatives from Cornell Students Against Sweatshops, the United Auto, Aerospace, and Agricultural Workers (UAW) Local 2300, the National Lawyers’ Guild and the Society for Natural Resources Conservation joined the circle of activists, holding up signs reading “Drop Cintas” and similar sentiments.

“Cintas is simply not the type of corporation Cornell should be doing business with,” said COLA President Patrick Young ’06. He cited the Cintas corporation’s history of 40 outstanding discrimination lawsuits and 100 Office of Safety and Health administration violations as the primary reasons for COLA’s desire to end Cornell’s purchasing agreement with the company. David Ratner ’04, COLA’s former president, elaborated that the protesters’ goal was to work towards Cornell’s forming an Ethical Purchasing Policy. Under such an agreement, Ratner explained, Cornell could associate with a company with better labor and environmental policies, possibly forming a committee of students and administrators to “review the ethical nature of vendors.” Young said that COLA has been “working its way up the administrative ladder” throughout this academic year to take Cintas off the campus. After talking with the Statler’s general manager and Senior Advisor to the President Barbara Krause, COLA decided the administration was dragging its feet in addressing the students’ complaints. Young and Joan Moriarty grad presented President Jeffey S. Lehman ’77 with a letter condemning Cornell’s ties to Cintas and calling for an Ethical Purchasing Policy. Ratner characterized this letter as an attempt to communicate with the administration in order to compromise on the issue as soon as possible.

Linda Grace-Kobas, director of Cornell News Services, spoke for the administration at the rally, telling the crowd that the University “takes the issue of fair labor very seriously” and that “serious discussion will go into [the letter].” When the protesters asked when the University would respond to the letter, Grace-Kobas said that the students had just handed the letter to the President a few moments previously. She said the students’ “voices will not go into a vacuum.”

The Student Assembly passed two resolutions this year against Cintas, the more recent one recommending that Cornell sever ties with the corporation and not renew its purchasing agreement. “As a union supporter I show solidarity with the same issues,” said Pete Boardman, a member of the UAW Local 2300. He said he participated in the rally because of Cintas’ anti-labor stance. Tim McKenna grad watched the rally from 10 feet away. He said “I think Cornell is so tied in with corporations,” explaining that while he supports COLA and the rally’s cause, he did not feel he knew enough about the issue to actively participate.

Young and the other attendees dispersed after leading one last chant of “Hey hey! Ho ho! Cintas has got to go!”

Archived article by Katie Miller
Sun Contributor