California car washers win $1 million in back pay

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – The first-ever group of unionized carwash workers, at Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica, Calif., won a $1 million back pay settlement on Jan. 11, advocates and the state’s attorney general announced.

The settlement is important because it bolsters the Steelworkers’ campaign to organize the “carwasheros,” virtually all of them Spanish-speaking, in the Los Angeles area. The union targeted eight area carwashes that exploit their workers, though at least one has closed. Steelworkers Local 675 now represents the car wash workers.

It’s also important because the L.A. car wash workers, along with day laborers nationwide and taxi drivers in New York and Philadelphia, are among the groups of unorganized workers that unions are targeting now – despite lack of labor law protection for the workers – in attempts to both expand their numbers and to ethnically diversify.

The million dollars will be divided among several hundred past and present workers at Bonus, and repays them for five years of lost back pay due to the firm’s violations of California law, said Neidi Dominguez, legal organizer for the Clean (Community Labor Environmental Action Network) Campaign, the grass-roots group that helped the Steelworkers’ organizing drive.

With the settlement “and the first contract with Bonus, we can go to other workers at carwashes in western Los Angeles and in southern Los Angeles” to show tangible benefits of unionization, Dominguez added.

Clean and the attorney general sued the carwash firm in 2010 for lack of proper break times, lack of overtime pay, wages that did not meet minimum wage standards, and lack of proper compensation for wages owed. With the settlement, Clean is urging area residents to get their cars cleaned at Bonus.

Photo: Washers at Marina Car Wash in Venice, Calif., want to wash away injustice to workers. Via Clean Carwash


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.