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Criminal charges filed against car wash owners

Workers at Vermont Hand Wash peer out at demonstrators who are protesting unfair labor practices by several car wash facilities.

Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo filed criminal charges today against the owners and manager of four Los Angeles car washes, accusing them of failure to pay proper wages or allow breaks.

Delgadillo also charged one of the managers with brandishing a club and machete to threaten workers attempting to organize a union.

Owners Benny and Nissan Pirian and manager Manuel Reyes were charged with 172 counts of violating criminal and labor laws for their treatment of workers at Hollywood Five Star Car Wash in Northridge, Vermont Hand Wash in Los Feliz and Celebrity Car Wash and Hollywood Car Wash, both in Hollywood.

The workers were paid a flat rate of $35 to $40 a day, violating minimum wage laws, prosecutors said. Some worked for tips alone.

The city attorney's office did not name the workers in the suit.

"In this city, we will hold to account and prosecute those who cheat or abuse their employees," Delgadillo said. His staff said the office has filed other suits against employers, but this is the first against a car wash.

The Pirians' lawyer did not respond to a call seeking comment; Reyes denied any wrongdoing.

"Why would I intimidate anybody?" Reyes asked in Spanish during a telephone interview at the Los Feliz car wash Tuesday afternoon. "It doesn't have any effect on me. If someone wants to join a union, that's a personal choice."

The AFL-CIO and United Steelworkers are trying to organize local car wash workers, whose unsuitable wages and working conditions are notorious. They said the Pirians have fired employees in retaliation.

"People come here to find a better life," said Israel Jimenez, 39, who left a computer sales job in Guatemala to come to Los Angeles in 2004, leaving behind his wife and two children. "We just want to work and make a bit of money so we can support our families."

Once in Los Angeles, Jimenez got a job at Vermont Hand Wash through a relative and kept working there until he was fired late last year.

He said after the unions began talking to workers, management began reducing hours and pay and gave union sympathizers poor jobs without access to tips, which make up the bulk of the workers' pay.

At some locations, only recycled water was available to them during the long shifts, he said. If they wanted potable water, they had to buy bottled water from the concession stand, for $1.50 to $2.

According to the criminal complaint, Reyes, the manager of the Los Feliz site, once brandished a machete and another time a club to intimidate workers. He was charged with witness intimidation and brandishing a deadly weapon, which carry a maximum sentence of 2 ½ years in county jail.

On Tuesday he said he had not been arrested or seen the charges. The criminal charges follow a number of lawsuits filed against the Pirians by the nonprofit Bet Tzedek.

The first suit, filed in 2005, alleged violation of labor laws, including wage and hour and overtime laws. It was settled.

In May, the firm sued the Pirians again, alleging wage and hour and overtime violations.

Bet Tzedek is seeking class action status for about 300 current and former employees.

"It's the exact same thing," sighed Kevin Kish, director of Bet Tzedek's Employment Rights Project. "We deal with a lot of industries where there are a lot of unrepentant employers. I'm a little surprised at the level of unrepentance here."

--Evelyn Larrubia

Photo: Workers at Vermont Hand Wash peer out at demonstrators who are protesting unfair labor practices by several car wash facilities. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (14)

Exploit the system, and now the system will exploit you. Watch out you Adult Day Health Care Centers, you cash wage earners on Section 8 and welfare driving BMWs & Benzs', you little cell phone shop owners. Your day will come just like this car wash guys has...

It's strange to watch California implode. It's ground zero for exploitation of illegal aliens. Thirty percent of all L.A. businesses will be shut down if they enforce labor laws. Yet, the state still pays for illegal alien health benefits while firing citizen state workers. I can't figure the state out.

Great comments Vaughn,

It's time for these businesses to treat people fairly, and to also force them to hire citizens of the U.S. who also seeking a better life for their families.

Benny and Nissan sound like guys who only repent on Yom Kippur, where a seat in shul is a lot cheaper than paying honest wages. Israelis are taught from childhood not to be suckers, but more importantly to treat anyone willing to earn a wage that s/he IS a sucker. Deport them.

so let me see if I have this correctly then? a car wash will now be potentially computed at union rates? is that correct? this as the detroit automakers are on the endangered species list and union jobs hang in the balance? well if workers make more demands on business, and business cannot meet those demands, business will cease to exist because who wants to manage militant workers when the job is low skill the service is unaffordable to the consumer?
watch and see if these companies do not simply close down emtirely and the operation dismantled with the land sold off.

Bob obviously hasn't traveled much, as most European countries provide healthcare for non-citizens as it's considered a basic human right, like our Constitution, which you might be surprised to know applies to these undocumented immigrants as well. There's no basis for sounding the destruction of 30% of businesses if labor laws are enforced (I think your beef is with immigration laws, Bob, though 30% is still ridiculous). Labor laws usually are enforced, which is why this story made the news. Bob seems to be another doomsday conservative who spends too much time watching the entertainers on Fox News than bothering to look at the reality.

Prosecuting one car wash make no sense. They all do it. There is no car wash wiere Americans are doing the job. You have to close them all if you want to stop exploitation of illegals. Let the lazy people wash they own cars.

Thanks for this superb coverage, but you might want to change the caption for the photograph: these aren't "workers" at Vermont Hand Wash, but the owners and manager of the operation who are named in the City Attorney's lawsuit.

Fortunately the United States gives all people access to immediate health care regardless of financial situation if it is an actual emergency. That is all that should be required of the state. It is not the state, or all the taxpayers who actually pay tax, to take care of every healthcare item a person has.

Furthermore, it will destroy the (already fragile) healthcare system. People need to learn to take care of themselves and stop relying on the government to do it for them.

Did Rockhead Delgadildo every think to have the immigration status checked on these workers. I think he'd find that most, if not all are ILLEGAL ALIENS WHO SHOULD BE DEPORTED!

In developing countries no job is considered menial as work equates to food and life. Yet in the US, many with little to no education refuse to work in car washes, housekeeping, agriculture fields etc due to a perception of being menial and leave this to immigrants. I think many have inflated expectations and need to be motivated to work and not sit at home receiving state aid.
Also, providing healthcare to anyone is a basic human right. Not only for their health but also for everyone else. I would not want someone with hepatitis to serve my food and not have access to health care.

John, of course many businesses (especially car washes) exploit their workers. However, there is a tipping point. I'm guessing that point came when the workers not only were given tiny wages, but were refused water and breaks. WATER.

Businesses cutting corners is expected, but treating people less than human is unacceptable.

These "business owners' are getting exactly what they deserve. I work in an industry related to labor and often have to speak with employers and employee's regarding work injuries and I have been in trouble for spouting off to employers who are unethical and think they can force people to break the law, but I wouldn't change a thing and I'll do it again whenever I encounter a sleazy employer who thinks they can lie and cheat and get away with it. I call them on it and I make sure that employee is taken care of, wages, medical care etc. All Human Beings deserve basic respect and employment conditions in compliance with the labor laws set forth by federal and state governments. Teach these creeps a lesson, and throw the book at them.

I THINK THAT THIS IS A BUCNH OF LIES OF THE WORKERS WHO ARE THREATING THE MANAGERS OF THE CAR WASH.THEY HAVE TAKEN IT SO FAR. COME ON TREATING PEOPLE IF THEY DIDNT WORK COME ON PEOPLE DONT JUST DO THAT. IN SOME CASES PEOPLE LIE TO GET A GREAT SUM OF MONEY EVENTHOUGH THEY ARE NOT THINKING OF THE PEOPLE OR FAMILIES THEY ARE HURTING. I PERSONALLY KNOW MANUEL REYES HE IS A NICE PERSON AND ALSO CAME TO THIS COUNTRY LIKE AN IMMIGRANT AND HAS 20 YEARS OF WORKING AS A WORKER AT CAR WASH, THINK ABOUT WHY WOULD HE DO THAT STUFF IF HE CAME THE SAME WAY HE STARTED OUT LOW AND NOW HE IS A MANAGER, WHY WOULD HE GIVE THAT UP OR RUINE IT? IF SOMEBODY IS INTIMIDATING YOU AND THREATING YOU WHY NOT CALL THE POLICE RIGHT AWAY? I MEAN COME ON I WOULDNT CARE IF I WAS ILLEGALL I STILL HAVE RIGHTS AND WHAT I THINK IS THAT THEY ARE TRYING TO GET BUISSNESS TO TAKE AWAY MONEY. IM NOT TRYING TO PICK A PART BUT THIS IS TO HARSH FOR THE MANAGERS. IF THE LAWYERS OR ANYBODY THAT IS READING THIS THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU GUYS ARE DOING TO THEM AND THIER FAMILIES TOO. THE TRUTH WILL COME OUT AND IF IT DOES AND THE MANGERS ARE NOT GUILTY I WOULD BE HAPPY AND PROVEN A POINT THANK YOU AND LATERS


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