Union Members Rally Their Support Around
Carwash Workers and Their Efforts to Unionize
“I didn’t go to college, but I went to the University of Justice,” carwasher Pedro Guzman told the crowd who joined together in solidarity at a recent rally to protest rights abuses at carwashes. Showing their support for the cause were members of various unions—janitors, iron workers, steelworkers, state, county and municipal employees, screen actors, theater actors, hotel workers—as well as community leaders, union officials and dignitaries, including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.
The event was organized by the Los Angeles County Federal of Labor, the CLEAN Carwash Campaign and the California Labor Federation.
Guzman, spoke of the deplorable conditions and horrible treatment of carwash workers. “Some of us make only $30 to $40 for a 10-hour day, or we work for tips only. We’re here today to let people know there is a cause. We’re here to help them raise their voices and be heard.”
The owners and one manager of the Vermont Hand Wash in Los Feliz, where Guzman works, were recently charged with 220 counts of criminal misconduct, including conspiracy, grand theft and failure to pay wages. These charges involve this facility and several others owned by Benny and Nissan Pirian. The charges against the manager, Manuel Reyes, include witness intimidation, brandishing a deadly weapon and sexual battery.
Many workers at Vermont Hand Wash have been the victims of intense intimidation and harassment—including threats of physical violence—because they are attempting to organize a union with the United Steelworkers.
“We fully support the efforts of carwash workers to unionize,” says David Goldstein, a partner in the law firm of Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein. “We’re in total agreement with Henry Huerta, director of the CLEAN Carwash Campaign when he categorizes carwashes as ‘sweatshops in plain sight.’ These workers are among the most exploited in the city. They work for less than minimum wage, without the basic rights mandated by law, including safety protocols and adequate rest or meal breaks; in many cases, they don’t even have potable water available to them. The list goes on and on.”
That list is the reason the CLEAN Carwash Campaign exists. CLEAN—Community-Labor-Environmental Action Network is a coalition of non-profit organizations committed to improving the lives of working families in Los Angeles. The campaign is a joint effort of CLEAN and the Carwash Workers Organizing Committee of the United Steelworkers. The goal is to enable carwash workers to organize a union and bargain collectively, thus raising their standard of living and securing basic workplace protections. In addition, the serious environmental and safety hazards in the community’s carwash industry must be addressed, including the flow of wastewater into storm drains.
“Carwashes are accidents waiting to happen,” says Goldstein. “This is a physically grueling industry, which oftentimes leads to back and shoulder injuries, exposure to toxic chemicals, and heat exhaustion.
“We are committed to ensuring these workers receive the full range of workers’ compensation benefits available to them. A large part of this commitment is working with labor unions to improve the conditions for workers. We look forward to the day when carwash workers are able to enjoy the freedom of association as set forth in the Constitution.”
A sentiment echoed by AFL-CIO President Sweeney as he addressed those at the rally. “When we stand together like this and fight like this, we cannot be defeated or denied. We will fight until we wash away the injustices of the carwash industry.”
If you would like to learn more about how Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein protect the rights of those who have suffered serious injuries on or off the job, please call us at 213-739-7000 or click here.