National AFL-CIO President, Congresswoman Chu, Labor Leaders and Workers Shut Down Hollywood Blvd in Support of LA Carwash Workers
Hundreds gather to protest workers' rights abuses at LA carwashes
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney today joined Congresswoman Judy Chu, community leaders and hundreds of supporters on Hollywood Blvd. to rally in support of carwash workers who are fighting to join a union to improve conditions in the industry. The rally was organized by the LA County Federation of Labor, the CLEAN Carwash Campaign and the California Labor Federation. The event was supposed to conclude with the unveiling of a new billboard near Vermont Hand Wash, on the corner of Vermont Ave. and Hollywood Blvd., urging carwash consumers “Wash Away Injustice: Support Carwash Workers.” However, at the last minute the billboard was taken down by CBS Outdoor Group, apparently due to pressure from the carwash owners.
“Our message to the owners of Vermont Hand Wash and every carwash owner in Los Angeles is clear,” said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO. “Here in Los Angeles we will stand together, and fight together, until we have won together, and we have washed away injustice from the carwash industry.”
Carwash workers are some of the most exploited workers in Los Angeles. Workers frequently work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, usually with no overtime pay, and are often paid less than the legal minimum wage, sometimes earning as little as $3-$4/ hour or working for tips alone. Additionally, carwash workers are subject to health and safety hazards due to constant exposure to water and to dangerous chemicals, frequently without protective gear.
In March 2008, the carwash workers at Vermont Hand Wash and other carwashes throughout Los Angeles began efforts to form a union with the United Steelworkers to fight for fair wages and working conditions. Since then, three union supporters at Vermont Hand Wash have been fired.
In February 2009, the Los Angeles City Attorney filed charges of criminal misconduct against Benny and Nisan Pirian and one of their carwash managers for their treatment of workers at their four carwash businesses in the City of Los Angeles: Vermont Hand Wash, Five Star Car Wash, Celebrity Car Wash, and Hollywood Car Wash. The charges include 220 counts of criminal misconduct such as conspiracy, grand theft, and failure to pay wages. Charges against the manager include witness intimidation, brandishing a deadly weapon and sexual battery. Additionally, one of the carwashes has also been cited by the LA Department of Public Works for repeatedly permitting wastewater to flow into storm drains.
“I decided to organize for better conditions and to help form a union after I got fed up with the low wages and mistreatment at the carwash,” said Pedro Guzman, a carwash worker at Vermont Hand Wash. “The managers would often yell at us in front of customers and humiliate us.”
The CLEAN Carwash Campaign and the LA County Federation of Labor announced an official boycott of carwashes owned by Benny Pirian and family members in the city of Los Angeles: Hollywood Car Wash, Vermont Hand Wash, and Celebrity Car Wash. The boycott also includes several carwashes outside the city, specifically Five Star Car Wash in Northridge, Lawndale Car Wash in Lawndale, and Magic Wand Car Wash in Huntington Park.
According to the CLEAN Carwash Campaign, however, the conditions are widespread in the industry. “Although the Pirians are among the worst offenders we have encountered in the carwash industry, the exploitative treatment of workers is rampant,” said Henry Huerta, director of the CLEAN Carwash Campaign. “Many carwashes are simply sweatshops operating in plain sight.”
A broad range of political and community leaders support the campaign. Newly elected Congresswoman Judy Chu said, “I pledge to work with our new Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, to ensure the federal government renews its commitment to the rights of these carwash workers and all workers.”
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The Community-Labor-Environmental-Action Network (CLEAN) Carwash Campaign, is a a joint effort of carwash workers throughout Los Angeles, the United Steelworkers, the AFL-CIO, and a diverse coalition of over 130 community, labor, faith and environmental organizations. CLEAN is committed to supporting the right of carwash workers to organize a union and bargain collectively; improving working conditions and ensuring that carwash employers meet labor standards; and demanding environmental clean up to ensure that wastewater from carwashes does not contaminate our rivers or oceans. www.cleancarwashLA.org
The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO is the chartered Central Labor Council (CLC) of the AFL-CIO in Los Angeles County and is the second largest in the country, representing over 350 unions and over 800,000 workers. Its mission is to promote a voice for workers so they can remain in the middle class, move themselves out of poverty by joining a union, encourage active participation in the political process by electing pro-union and pro-worker officials and to advance public policies that support workers and their families. As the coordinating center for labor’s political activity, the Federation believes that in educating and mobilizing workers to be politically active they can create and sustain healthy communities, and FIGHT FOR GOOD JOBS that REBUILD THE LOS ANGELES MIDDLE CLASS. Visit the Federation at www.launionaflcio.org.
The California Labor Federation is made up of more than 1,200 AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions, representing 2.1 million union members in manufacturing, retail, construction, hospitality, public sector, health care, entertainment and other industries. The California Labor Federation is dedicated to promoting and defending the interests of working people and their families for the betterment of California’s communities. From legislative campaigns to grassroots organizing, our affiliates are actively engaged in every aspect of California’s economy and government. www.calaborfed.org