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Alleged abuses at L.A. carwashes detailed at hearing

January 14, 2010 |  6:03 pm

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