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Labor's New Organization Man

Bruce Raynor is reinvigorating the troubled garment workers' union. Could he be the successor to AFL-CIO chief Sweeney?

Bruce S. Raynor was on a roll. On Mar. 19, the president of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees (UNITE) held a conference call for reporters to announce an ambitious, $100 million lawsuit against Cintas Corp. (CTAS ), the country's leading commercial laundry company. The class action charges that the largely nonunion Cintas fails to pay overtime to thousands of drivers who pick up laundry from hotels, restaurants, and other customers. Raynor let Cintas workers and UNITE organizers do most of the talking, only stepping in to blast Cintas for "dragging down standards in the industry by paying subpar wages." A Cintas official denies the overtime charge and insists the company pays competitive wages.

It's bold tactics like the Cintas lawsuit that are turning Raynor into a rising star in the labor movement and a potential successor to AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, whose term expires in two years. When Raynor became the president of UNITE in 2001, he took over a union that had been badly battered by the offshore exodus of more than a million garment and textile jobs.