Judge Sentences Carwash Owners to a Year in Jail for Workplace Violations

This week, carwash workers, and community and union members of the Community-Labor-Environmental Action Network (CLEAN), rallied at Vermont Hand Wash in support of carwash workers who have been fighting for a voice on the job for more than two and a half years. The event celebrated the car wash workers’ victory against corporate abuse: the announcement by the City Attorney that two of Los Angeles’ worst carwash owners –brothers Benny and Nissan Pirian– have each been sentenced to one year in jail.

Maria Elena Durazo, head of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor:

Carwash owners are on notice that this is a new day in Los Angeles. Abuse of workers will no longer go unchecked.

According to Henry Huerta, director of the CLEAN Carwash Campaign:

The Pirian brothers were held accountable because workers at the Pirian carwashes collectively stood up for their rights and for better conditions on the job. Their efforts to organize for a voice are finally bringing accountability to the carwash industry.

Carwash workers reported the violations that led to the criminal complaint, and to this conviction. Owners should take notice that workers can—and will—continue to expose illegal workplace conditions in their fight for a voice at work.

Luz Elena Oseguera, a union supporter who was fired from Vermont Hand Wash, told the crowd-

I want to say to all carwasheros that what happened to the owners of this carwash means there is justice for us workers. We are going to keep fighting until we have a union, because that’s the only way that we are going to have real justice on the job.

On August 13, the Pirian brothers, who have become the face of abusive and unrepentant owners in the carwash industry, each pled no contest to six criminal charges brought by the LA City Attorney and were each sentenced by a judge to 365 days in county jail. This is in addition to the restitution they will still have to pay workers in the case.

Protective orders were also issued that prohibit Benny and Nissan Pirian from attempting to intimidate or dissuade any employee or victim in the criminal case from participating in the prosecution of any law enforcement or legal action, and from unlawfully prohibiting these workers from engaging in union activities.

The Pirians remain on probation for four years. During the term of their probation, the carwashes have to keep their payroll and any health and safety-related records open for inspection, without notice, by the City Attorney to ensure continued compliance with terms of the judge’s order. If the Pirians violate the terms of their probation, the remedy is to send them back to jail. The case moves forward with respect to the remaining defendant, former Vermont Hand Wash manager Manuel Reyes.

The Los Angeles City Attorney filed charges of criminal misconduct against Benny and Nisan Pirian, as well as Manuel Reyes and four of the Pirians’ carwash businesses – Vermont Hand Wash, Five Star Car Wash, Celebrity Car Wash, and Hollywood Car Wash – back in February 2009. The charges against Manuel Reyes include witness intimidation, brandishing a deadly weapon and sexual battery.

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis commented on the announcement of the sentencing:

All workers deserve safe and healthy work places and to be paid the wages for which they have worked so hard. And law abiding employers deserve a level playing field. I applaud the hard work of all those who fought to uphold the law in this case. Employers should heed this warning – we will not tolerate the exploitation of vulnerable workers.