LA car wash workers score NLRB victory

Los Angeles car wash workers fired recently for union activity won more than $50,000 in back pay today in a formal settlement of their National Labor Relations Board complaint against Vermont Hand Wash, a notorious anti-worker establishment.

The NLRB issued the complaint in late May alleging that Vermont’s management targeted and then fired three workers who tried to form a union.

According to the complaint Vermont’s management cut the hours of union supporters, assigned them less desirable duties and unplugged the time clock when union supporters picketed the car wash, causing workers to lose wages.

The complaint singled out one manager, Manuel Reyes, who, it said, threatened workers on numerous occasions with bullets, a machete and a combat knife. The NLRB also said Reyes threatened two union organizers with a side-handle billy club in front of car wash workers.

After the full NLRB’s expected approval of the settlement, the decision will have the same effect as a board order and will be backed by an enforcement decree from a federal appeals court. The company’s owners, the Pirian brothers, could face jail time if they violate the settlement.

The agreement prohibits Vermont Hand Wash from committing any of the violations they have already committed, as well as any other violations of the National Labor Relations Act.

Pedro Guzman, a Vermont Hand Wash worker who will receive $1,650 back pay under the deal, told supporters at a rally last week about how the intimidation and harassment worked. “He took us into his office and interrogated us about our union activities. And he even offered to compensate me if I would work on his side against the union and my compañeros. But I would never do that. Our struggle continues with the incredible support from unions, students, faith groups, old people, and young people, all of them willing to come out and sweat under the sun to show us their solidarity.”

Just before the rally, the company’s owners convinced a billboard company to take down a sign that carried the message: “Wash Away Injustice! Support Car Wash Workers.”

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told the crowd at the rally that the struggle of the car wash workers was “a perfect example of why the Employee Free Choice Act is needed. These workers have gone through hell trying to win just living standards.

“No worker should face that treatment in this country we share. In America, every worker should enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of association. In America, every corporation should be held accountable to the law. In America, every worker should be free to join a union and bargain for a better life.”

Last year the car wash workers, most of who are immigrants, formed a city-wide Car Wash Workers Organizing Committee (CWOC) to raise their standard of living, secure basic workplace protections and address the serious environmental and safety hazards in their industry. In March 2008, CWOC joined with the United Steel Workers and became part of the CLEAN Carwash Campaign, a broad-based coalition of groups fighting for the rights of car wash workers all over the city.

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