A civil lawsuit filed against the owner of eight Los Angeles car washes where workers’ rights were violated was settled on Wednesday for over $1 million dollars. The settlement is intended to reimburse car wash workers for lost wages from October 2006 to the present.
The settlement marks a major victory for the CLEAN (Community Labor Environmental Action Network) Campaign whose efforts secured the first unionized car wash in the country with Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica this past October.
The CLEAN Campaign partnered with the CA Attorney General’s office in 2010 to file the lawsuit in response to long-standing problems the carwasheros faced at the workplace: lack of proper break times, lack of overtime pay, wages that did not meet minimum wage standards, and lack of proper compensation for wages owed, among other labor violations.
Attorney General Kamala Harris announced the settlement of the suit in a statement, saying:
“Workers at these car washes were taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers who illegally denied them the pay and benefits they earned. I am pleased that the resolution of this case will allow workers to receive the pay they are owed.”
Dave Campbell of Steelworkers Local 675, the union that now represents the Bonus carwasheros, said of the settlement, “We are glad that the Attorney General is taking seriously the issue of wage theft among car wash workers. Workers have been waiting to be made whole for past violations for years.”
Throughout the country, the mostly men, who work in car washes are some of the most likely workers to suffer from “wage theft.” Many are paid less than minimum wage, receive no additional pay for overtime, and are sometimes not paid at all, with tips as their only compensation.
Low-wage workers in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago lose an estimated $2,634 per year to wage theft, according to a 2010 study co-authored by the Center for Urban Economic Development, the National Employment Law Project and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.
Below is a 2009 investigative report from Los Angeles’ KCET news magazine show called “SoCal Connected” that looked at widespread labor violations at Southern California car washes.