After a year-long campaign by labor and community groups on behalf of carwasheros in what is traditionally a progressive town, the City of Santa Monica will no longer contract with car-wash businesses that are not in compliance with federal and state employment laws.
In addition to strict implementation by the city’s Finance Department of existing policies that require those receiving City dollars to comply with laws, the Santa Monica City Attorney’s office will investigate practices at all four car washes located in Santa Monica as part of its Consumer Affairs operations.
Rather than employ public workers to wash city trucks, police cars and other vehicles, Santa Monica, like many other cities, contracts with local car washes to keep its vehicles clean. After California’s Attorney General reached a settlement with Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica that resulted in the business agreeing to a contract with the United Steelworkers Union, organizers from Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA) and the AFL-CIO’s Clean Car Wash Campaign found that city vehicles were being washed at businesses with poor and illegal working conditions.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) filed a lawsuit in May charging one of these businesses, Santa Monica Car Wash, located on Pico Boulevard, with a number of illegal activities. Three city council members responded by proposing an examination of city policies relating to the businesses with which it contracts.
Carwasheros report that they are regularly subjected to a number of illegal working conditions and practices at car-wash businesses throughout the Los Angeles area. Common violations of state and federal law include requiring workers to be at work at a certain hour, but not allowing them to “clock in” until there is work for them; expecting workers to work for tips, not wages; refusing to give them water to drink during hot summer work days; paychecks that bounce; and not paying overtime according to legal requirements. Employees also say they are not given safety equipment when they are working with toxic chemicals and that they lack safety training.
Local faith leaders held a ceremony at Santa Monica Car Wash on Sunday, June 10, to support the carwasheros and draw attention to the MALDEF lawsuit. The interfaith gathering included prayers, reflections and a water ritual to “wash away injustice” at the car wash that is currently at the center of enforcement activities in the area. The action was co-sponsored by the Santa Monica Synagogue, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica.
A community campaign organized by CLUE-LA is encouraging local residents to support Bonus Car Wash at 2800 Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica, which is the first union car wash in the United States.