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Alleged abuses at L.A. carwashes detailed at hearing

A City Hall panel including Cardinal Roger Mahony heard from witnesses today about alleged abuses in the Los Angeles carwash industry, which has been targeted by the U.S. labor movement in a major organizing drive.

Several former carwash employees told the panel about what they called systematic mistreatment of mostly immigrant workers in the industry, which, officials say, has long been prone to minimum wage, safety and other violations.

“I saw my co-workers work for far less than the minimum wage for 50 to 60 hours a week with no overtime pay,” said Maria Aide Hernandez, identified as a former cashier at the Auto Spa Express carwash. “I saw workers have accidents because they were not provided with basic safety equipment.”

An industry representative, Bill Carbonel, president of the Western Carwash Assn., said his group deplores any violation of labor laws. He said most owners are law-abiding businessmen who treat workers fairly, pay legal wages and adher to “the highest standards.”

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also spoke on behalf of carwash workers before the local panel of the National Workers’ Rights Board, a project of Jobs with Justice, a nonprofit labor activist group.

Two major labor groups, the AFL-CIO and United Steelworkers, are attempting to organize Los Angeles-area carwash workers in a major campaign that has drawn national attention.

Community groups have supported the campaign, which has been aided by grants from the Ford Foundation and other foundations, said Jonathan P. Hiatt, chief of staff to the president of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation.

The campaign is seen as a national model of organizing low-wage workers with community support, Hiatt said.

—Patrick McDonnell

Comments () | Archives (12)

immigrants? how about ILLEGALS, i used to go to a carwash on reseda bl., most employees were illegal armenians. they did a very good job for $7.99 a wash.now if the 'union' gets in there, it will be $27.99 a wash.yea i believe in a living wage BUT for legals only, the illegals are happy to violate laws and being employed.

Oh please! Let me be the first and maybe only person to make a comment. If someone is here illegally, he is breaking the law. He will get taken advantage of. Do I condone that? No, but it is what happens. If they are here illegally, than our laws should not affect them nor should they be able to belong to a union. How does steel have anything to so with a car wash? And it figures, the great Mahoney would be their protecting their rights! Hmmmm, does anyone see a problem eith him not protecting the rights of molested children? The whole thing makes me sick!

Patrick, I was interviewing in Tijuana year before last (2008) and met men who enter San Diego County to work in car wash businesses by day and return to Tijuana in the evening. They told me about the abuses you mention in your article as well as others. At one car wash, workers were required to "tip-out" the supervisor after every shift (as waiters do in restraunts)! The industry rep. is surely in denial.

"..systematic mistreatment of mostly immigrant workers in the industry.."

Hmm..notice the article did not mention about the big elephant in the room - ILLEGAL immigrants.

It seems that everyone is ready to lynch the so called "illegal immigrants", nevermind that these people are working hard to have the chance at a good life, nevermind that they are being taken advantage of and that people treat them like parasites because we have some sort of superiority complex disguised as "indignation because they are "illegals".

The article does not mention the legal status of these men and women because it should not me the deciding factor of weather to protect these people's rights and dignity. WE are a nation built on immigrants' hard work and sacrifices. The real sickening thing to me here is that people think it is ok to demonize someone because of their country of origin/race/color of skin and legal status.

Your words sure help me sleep better at night!

oh come on! ferenc,Judith Thayer and Blenda M - thanks for pointing out the obvious! and a special thank you to ferenc for giving the prime example of the typical attitude about the illegal "problem". You are quick to complain and quick to take advantage of those who are in a compromised position in our "advanced" society. Why aren't you willing to pay what should be the actual cost of a car wash and support "real" American workers? instead of keeping money in your pocket by denying "legal" American workers work that according to some that post here would "die" for a job??? It is absolutely ridiculous - please, if one is tired of the "illegal" problem then ask for proof that the construction workers that work on your house, the gardners that do your lawn, the women that clean and take care of your children, the food that you eat prepared in a restaurant...is all done by "legals" -
The real issue is the business owners - they are the ones that need to be penalized to the point that it is more costly to have illegal workers than to hire legal workers. Car wash businesses are only one of many that take advantage of the people that come here in search of opportunity...I guess someone forgot to tell them that there aren't opportunities here anymore. When are we going to get rid of the Statue of Liberty with that defunct saying..."give me your tired, your poor...the wretched refuse of your teeming shore..." or maybe one of you can spray paint "don't" at the begining.

The big elephant in the room is greedy business owners who take advantage of the immigrant labor (illegal or not) to hold over the workers head. This is not only an illegal immigrant worker issue, just the Chinese and Asian Indian labor force. Take a broader look at issues and you will be able to see things more clearly.

So, the rules are for everybody else. They want to break the law to gain employment, but don't want the employer to break the labor laws about minimum wage. Hypocrites.

Funny how all the negative comments are implying that every immigrant worker is an illegal immigrant now. If the whole thing makes you sick Judith Thayer, imagine how the people who came here LEGALLY and have to work in these places feel. The truth of the matter is that everyone commenting about the illegal immigrants could care less whether they're here illegally or not because in the end if you see them walking down the street you'd make the ignorant assumption they're here illegally anyhow.

And if legal immigrants were working at these places, ferenc, than you would be paying a lot more for your car wash and you would still be complaining.

The problem is not with the people who are working, but the people who hire them.

Whether the employees are illegal or legal, under the law, employers are supposed to pay their workers the minimum wage imposed by the state. But I think that there should be stricter enforcement regarding the employment and hiring of workers -- they should be legal. Either way, if employers are violating the law, they should be penalized heavily or charged criminally so as to get them to follow labor standards law and detract them from hiring illegal immigrants.

Sounds like a ploy by the unions to find more people to take advantage of. I don't think carwashes have dangerous chemicals or lack of safety equipment. By the way, what was a religious leader doing on the panel? Is a sponge, towel or soap that dangerous? Why wasn't CalOSHA or CARB present if that were the case. Do they need Safety Glasses and Gloves to dry cars with? We as a socity have so lost it.................

As someone who co-owns a car wash:

1) YES, many car wash operators hire illegal immigrants. There is no denying this.

2) MOST car wash owners treat their employees well, pay them fair wages, etc. Let's also not forget that most employees make more than $7 in tips per hour, which of course they dont report/pay tax on

3) There are SOME bad owners who abuse employees. They should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law

4) If car washes unionize... the basic wash price will be in excess of $25. There is NO WAY around that fact.


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