Labor Groups Launch Campaign to Organize Car Wash Workers

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Labor and immigrants' rights groups launched a campaign Thursday to organize workers at Los Angeles-area car washes. KPCC's Brian Watt says the groups are taking aim at car wash owners they say routinely violate labor, health, and safety laws.

["Car Wash" by Rose Royce plays: "Oooh Oooh... you might not ever get rich... but let me tell ya, it's better than digging a ditch."]

Brian Watt: Angelenos "working at the car wash" get as little as $2 an hour – and sometimes, only tips – says Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

Angelica Salas: At the same time that these workers are earning these miserable wages, the car wash industry, out of its own admission, is making a profit margin of up to 30%.

Watt: Twenty-nine-year-old Jose Torres has worked at the Vermont Car Wash in Hollywood for four years. He said his employer was paying him $40 for a 10-hour day of work. Last November, the boss paid minimum wage – 8 bucks an hour. But then he cut the full-time workers' hours to four or five hours a day, and brought on more workers. The pay, Torres says, isn't the only drawback.

Jose Torres: En el trabajo, usamos chimicos muy fuertas como el acido...

Watt At work, he says, he uses strong chemicals – acid and yellow soap. Sometimes his hands feel as if they're burning, and, he says, the car wash doesn't provide protective gloves or masks. The manager at the Vermont Car Wash and the head of the Western Carwash Association declined request for interviews.

The manager at this car wash at 8th Street and Western Avenue also refused recorded interviews, but he said he does pay his workers minimum wage. A basic car wash there costs $11. Labor leaders urge drivers to steer clear of car washes that charge $5 or less, because they're likely not paying their workers enough.