Chloe Osmer of the Community-Labor-Environmental Action Network (CLEAN) Carwash Campaign reports on a series of enforcement actions last week by California’s Labor Commissioner Angela Bradstreet at more than 200 carwash operations in the state.
The California labor commissioner’s office investigated 247 carwashes in California, including nearly 50 in Los Angeles County alone. The businesses include carwashes that the CLEAN Carwash Campaign had reported to the state as having potential wage-and-hour violations based on complaints from workers.
The actions, which resulted in more than $700,000 in fines to the carwashes, made it clear that the carwash industry continues to violate even the most basic laws protecting workers. The industry’s widespread problems with compliance highlight the need for workers to have a union to help enforce standards in their workplace.
For example, workers from A Moment’s Notice Car Wash in Los Angeles came to the campaign with reports that they were being paid $50 per day, although they worked between 10 and 12 hours per day. The workers said they were paid in cash and were not given lunch breaks, rest breaks or payment for overtime. Workers also told the CLEAN Campaign the owner of the carwash had threatened to call immigration officials or fire workers if they took legal action to recover their stolen wages.
Labor Commissioner Angela Bradstreet fined A Moment’s Notice $16,000 for failure to carry workers’ compensation insurance and failure to register with the state under The Carwash Worker Law. However, the carwash was not cited for violation of minimum wage and overtime laws, and no wages were recovered for workers.
The recent statewide sweep follows a similar campaign last year that resulted in 469 citations to carwash operations for various labor law violations, with fines totaling $3.1 million for the year. In addition, the agency collected some $311,325 in back wages on behalf of carwash workers last year.
Last year, the mostly immigrant carwash workers throughout Los Angeles formed the Carwash Workers Organizing Committee (CWOC), part of the United Steelworkers (USW). Together with the CLEAN Carwash Campaign, carwash workers are committed to raising their standard of living, securing basic workplace protections and addressing the serious environmental and safety hazards that exist in their industry. For more information on the labor-community CLEAN campaign, click here.
California leads the nation in the number of carwash operations. They are highly profitable with a typical return on investment of more than 40 percent, according to a CWOC report, “Cleaning Up the Carwash Industry: Empowering Workers and Protecting Communities.” However, the report says profits from this industry are largely derived from violations of mostly immigrant workers‘ legal rights, including rampant noncompliance with minimum wage, overtime, rest and meal period requirements. Carwash workers routinely work 50 to 60 hours a week and average $12,500 a year, with no benefits.