The thousands of workers who shampoo, wax, dry, and detail cars are some of the most exploited workers in Los Angeles. They frequently work in appalling conditions for low or, in many instances, no wages. Too often, carwash owners flout labor laws, health and safety regulations, and enviornmental protections in their single-minded drive for profits. Their practices put workers, customers, and even the general public at risk.
Conditions faced by LA carwash workers include:
- Workers typically work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, frequently with no overtime pay.
- Workers are often paid less than the legal minimum wage, sometimes working for tips alone and earning as little as $30-$40 per day ($3-$4/ hour).
- Carwash workers are subject to health and safety hazards such as constant exposure to water and to dangerous chemicals without protective gear.
- Workers in the industry have reported kidney damage, respiratory problems and nerve damage.
But LA carwash workers are standing up for justice. Here are some of their stories:
Bosbely worked at Vermont Hand Wash for nearly two years as a dryer and detailer. Bosbely and many of his coworkers suffered health effects from using acids and other toxic chemicals without any protective gear, such as goggles or gloves.
Bosbely reported the dangerous working conditions at the carwash to Cal/OSHA and answered questions from the press when other workers were afraid to. He also joined his coworkers in taking legal action against the owners of the carwash for not paying minimum wage or overtime pay, and not allowing workers to take meal and rest breaks.
Bosbely was one of the most outspoken union supporters in the carwash, and took great personal risks to try and improve conditions for all workers there. In October 2008, management at Vermont Hand Wash fired Bosbely.
Feliciano is 63 years old, but cannot even consider retiring because he doesn’t make enough money. He has worked in L.A. carwashes for 37 years and has seen conditions for the workers deteriorate. Workers at carwashes today work longer hours for less money and in more hazardous conditions. He is sick of seeing his coworkers mistreated and is speaking out to provide a better future for the younger workers. “The boss has no respect for us. We work hard and we don’t deserve to be treated like animals.”
Israel worked at Vermont Hand Wash as a soaper and dryer for nearly four years. He supported his wife and children with his job at the carwash. Israel was one of the workers involved in a Cal/OSHA complaint about the dangerous working conditions at Vermont Hand Wash.
Israel, a strong union supporter, had his hours cut by management. When he complained, one of the managers showed him a combat knife and a machete that he kept in his car, parked inside the carwash. On another occasion, the same manager held out a handful of .38 caliber bullets and told Israel that he kept a gun in his car “just in case.” After suffering intense intimidation and harassment, Israel was fired from the carwash this past November.
Jose worked at Vermont Hand Wash for four years before he was fired. Jose helped lead the efforts to organize with his coworkers for better conditions. He supported his three children and his mother with his job, so he was at first reluctant to take the risk of speaking publicly. Jose was fired after he spoke to reporters about the working conditions at Vermont Hand Wash.
“The day after I spoke to the press, the manager sped up the cars on the conveyor belt while I worked inside the wash tunnel, which was really dangerous for me and my coworkers. Not long after that, I was fired,” said Jose.
Pedro Guzman worked at Vermont Hand Wash for 6 ½ years. Despite nearly constant harassment and intimidation, he led efforts to organize a union and improve wage and hour and health and safety conditions at the carwash. Pedro has over 11 years of experience in the carwash industry. Pedro supports a son and several other family members with his wages.
Pedro decided to organize for better conditions and to help form a union after becoming fed up with the low wages and lack of respect at the carwash. He said that managers would often berate him in front of the customers and that workers often suffered humiliating and discriminatory treatment. After managers learned that Pedro was a union supporter, he was harassed at work and made to work in a less desirable position. He was also asked by his supervisor to hold an anti-union banner during protests by community supporters, a violation of federal labor law.