Earlier this month, Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against one of the largest carwash owners in California. The lawsuit is seeking $6.6 million dollars in penalties and unpaid wages for carwash workers employed at 8 carwashes throughout California.
Henry Huerta, Director of the CLEAN Carwash Campaign said, '''The CLEAN Carwash Campaign brought these violations to the attention of the Attorney General. We applaud the Attorney General for taking such strong action to right these injustices and recover monies owed to carwash workers and the state of California.'
The carwashes in the lawsuit include two LA County carwashes, Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica and Marina Car Wash in Venice. Workers from these carwashes have reported bouncing paychecks, dangerous working conditions, and management harassment of workers. In 2008, forty Marina workers walked off the job and picketed in front of the carwash to protest their bouncing checks with support from the CLEAN Carwash Campaign.
Eduardo Tapia, a worker at Bonus Car Wash, said, '''For almost a year, the checks kept bouncing. We would take the checks to check cashing places but they bounced so frequently that they stopped cashing them and told us they could call the police on us because it was illegal.'
This Attorney General lawsuit is not the first legal action taken against the carwashes. In 2007, Bonus Car Wash paid $100,000 in back wages to 55 employees following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. Investigators found that the employees, who worked as many as 10 hours in a day, did not receive correct overtime pay and sometimes earned less than the federal minimum wage.
Rogelio Herrera, a union supporter who was recently terminated from Marina Car Wash after the wash instituted a new speed-up policy, added, '''My coworkers and I would be told to clock out at 6pm but then would have to keep washing cars off the clock until the last one was out of the carwash.'
Workers indicate that the problems at the carwashes aren't limited to wage theft. With the help of the CLEAN Carwash Campaign and its community partners, Marco Vinicio and his coworkers filed a complaint detailing serious safety hazards at the carwash. As a result, Cal/OSHA issued Marina Car Wash $15,000 in citations in May of 2010. Two of the violations, including one for failing to provide eye protection for workers handling corrosive substances, were classified as '''serious' by Cal/OSHA, meaning they created a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm.
The conditions at Marina and Bonus Car Wash are all too common in the carwash industry. Carwash workers and their community allies, like ACLU of Southern California, have joined in a coalition to try and improve conditions in Los Angeles. To find out how you can support the carwash workers' struggle for justice in Santa Monica and in carwashes across Los Angeles, please contact Betsy Estudillo at the CLEAN Carwash Campaign at 213-422-7833 or email us. Be sure to visit our website for more information.