A federal appeals court agreed Tuesday that the Cintas Corp., the nation's largest uniform supplier, violated employee rights by cracking down on workers who showed union support.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis affirmed a National Labor Relations Board decision against the Cincinnati-based company. The board found Cintas used unfair labor practices when it warned employees against wearing pro-union stickers and a union hat and confiscated pro-union fliers from a break room in Charlotte, N.C..
Cintas has been told to remove from files any references to disciplinary action for wearing pro-union material, to stop interfering with employee rights, and to post explanations of the NLRB decision at its Charlotte and Branford, Conn., facilities.
Messages for comment were left at Cintas.
The case is the latest round in several years of legal fights over efforts to unionize Cintas workers by Unite Here, which represents workers in fields ranging from food service to gaming.
"We have been unable to find a reported case in which an employer has sought to use a union's national campaign as a defense to unfair labor practice charges involving individual employee activity," Judge Diana E. Murphy wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel, responding to a Cintas contention that Unite Here's campaign was unlawful and unprotected activity.
The federal complaint charged that Cintas violated restrictions against employer interference with workers' rights to organize, join or assist unions, and prohibitions on discriminating against workers to discourage union membership.
Cintas, which supplies and launders uniforms for restaurant and hotel employees and other workers, has some 34,000 employees and posted sales of nearly $4 billion last year.