Victory at the Carwash

Yesterday was a historic moment for carwash workers in Los Angeles – after years of fighting the deplorable workplace conditions, workers have finally secured their first union contract. The agreement, with Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica, marks the first contract won by the CLEAN (Community Labor Environmental Action Network) Campaign and makes Los Angeles home to the only unionized carwash in the country.

It’s a tide-change for the carwash industry, which has allowed its workers to suffer in the shadows for decades. It’s also a remarkable testament to the powerful pro-labor community in Los Angeles, and to the incredible courage of the carwasheros themselves, who fought day in and day out for the reforms we announced yesterday.

Under the terms of this agreement, workers at Bonus will become official members of the United Steelworkers. The contract includes a wage increase, health and safety protections, grievance and arbitration procedures and protections for workers if the carwash is sold. It also establishes rights that protect workers from being unfairly punished or dismissed. These might seem like common-sense protections, but they’ve been entirely absent from the carwash industry for decades.  

The carwasheros stood today with their community partners, local labor leaders, and elected officials at Bonus to announce the good news – and to physically sign this historic contract. Santa Monica Councilman Kevin McKeown was on hand and brought his car to get its first union carwash. He’s also committed to bringing this agreement to City Hall and proposing to make Bonus the official carwash of Los Angeles – meaning all city vehicles would be exclusive customers of a unionized carwash.  

It was an incredible day for us, but there’s still work to do. Most importantly, we need to make sure consumers in Los Angeles know exactly where to get their car washed. We’ll be launching campaigns across the city to send conscious consumers to Bonus Car Wash (located at 2800 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica), the only union carwash in California!

We also need to continue the momentum that was unleashed today. Along with the Bonus agreement, workers at Marina Car Wash in Venice, which is owned by the same company but was closed last December, also won recognition of the union and a contract, and the owners have committed to working to reopen the well-known carwash. Additionally, workers at three other Los Angeles carwashes have won recognition of a union and have begun contract negotiations. Workers all across LA are speaking out against the conditions in the industry– such as pay that’s often far less than minimum wage and exposure to toxic chemicals without protective gear – and they need the support of consumers and community members. 

Bonus Car Wash and other operators that are negotiating contracts with their workers are examples of the right way to do business and of the incentives in taking care of your workforce. Unfortunately, the reality is that there are still too many owners out there who abuse their workers in a desperate attempt to pad their own bottom line. Until union contracts for fair conditions are commonplace in the carwash industry, instead of unprecedented, our work is cut out for us. We hope you’ll join our fight.