US District Court Says UNITE Union Violated Privacy Laws

September 5, 2006 ( - The US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled that a workers' union overstepped privacy laws when it used license plate numbers to access motor vehicle records of Cintas employees as part of an organization campaign.

In a summary judgment, the US District Court ruled that the Union of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees (UNITE) violated the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994 when it used the license plate numbers that it obtained from cars in Cintas parking lots to get employees’ names and addresses. The ploy was part of a union campaign to organize the workers of Cintas, the largest employer in the industrial laundry industry in the US, according to the court opinion (See Employees Sue Unions for Privacy Violations).

The class action suit was filed by Cintas employees in 2004, after they, or their family or friends began having unannounced, uninvited visits by UNITE representatives.

The campaign by UNITE meant finding out as much as possible about Cintas and any issues its workers might have, preparing written materials and organizing strategy, and compiling addresses of workers to contact. According to the opinion, organizers also used tactics such as following Cintas employees home to get their addresses. The union deemed such prying methods, which it has used since the 1970s, “essential because it believed that workers would be reluctant to talk to UNITE representatives at work,” fearing retaliation by their employer.

The court focused on the union’s accessing employees’ motor vehicle records “to help create lists of names of presumed Cintas workers,” in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and California.

Cintas President and CEO Scott Farmer hailed the district court’s decision in a statement, saying it “sends a clear message to the unions that these unlawful tactics will not be tolerated.” The court ordered that the union pay $2,500 to each of the Cintas employees who brought the original suit, but has not yet determined whether to award punitive damages and compensation to approximately 2,000 more Cintas employees.

According to a press release , UNITE plans to appeal the judgment.

For the full opinion go here .