Union leader, supporters rally for car wash workers

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Organized labor leaders and more than 100 of their supporters shut down a block of Hollywood Boulevard. KPCC’s Brian Watt says they rallied in support of car wash workers’ efforts to join a union.

[Crowd cheers]

Brian Watt: The rally took place across from the Vermont Hand Wash at the intersection of Vermont Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard. For almost two years, the United Steelworkers union has been trying to organize Southland car wash workers. This time, it got help from the American Federation of Labor’s national president, John Sweeney.

John Sweeney: Brothers and sisters, we are here today because Vermont Hand Wash is one of the dirtiest car washes in Los Angeles.

Watt: Sweeney rattled off a list of offenses union activists and car wash workers have leveled against some car wash owners: paying workers less than half the minimum wage for long hours, failure to provide protective gear to workers exposed to toxic chemicals, and retaliation against workers who try to organize. Earlier this year, Los Angeles’ city attorney alleged in a lawsuit that one manager at Vermont Hand Wash had brandished a machete at workers.

Sweeney: These workers have gone through hell trying to form a union to win just living standards.

Watt: The backdrop behind Sweeney was a blank white billboard visible above the car wash. The event’s organizers had planned during the rally to unveil a message in that space: "Wash Away Injustice, Support Car Wash Workers." But hours before the event, organizer Chloe Osmer said the pro-union banner was gone.

Chloe Osmer: The car wash owner apparently called CBS Outdoor who owns the billboard, and CBS apparently caved into pressure and took down the billboard this morning.

Watt: The billboard does sit on car wash property. CBS Outdoor did not return a phone call seeking comment. At the car wash, the manager, who’d only identify himself as Robert, asked reporters who looked for owners Benny and Nissan Pirian to stay off the property.

Robert: I’m just the manager. I’m just here. The boss is not here. So we don’t have nothing to talk, nothing to hear, nothing to say.

Watt: The labor campaign has asked consumers to boycott Vermont Hand Wash and five others the Pirians own. Rosemarie Kizirian, a customer who pulled out of the Vermont Hand Wash lot, said she’d probably taken her SUV there for the last time:

Rosemarie Kizirian: No, I probably won’t be back, because there’s another car wash down the street from me. I mean, these people work hard for their money. I mean, to be taken advantage of like that is terrible.

Watt: Kizirian said she’d ask the managers at other car washes how they treat their workers.

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