Workers at two South LA carwashes gain union contract

Mayor Villaraigosa at union car wash event in South Los Angeles

José Martinez/OnCentral

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, pictured above at left, said that the idea of car wash workers unionizing isn't a "radical [notion]." To his right is Manuel Aguilar, who has worked at Vermont Car Wash for five years and who also spoke at the press conference.

Supporters at car wash union event in South L.A.

José Martinez/OnCentral

Supporters at the event made their pro-union stance clear with their cheers, chants of "¡Si se pudo!" (Yes we did!) and signs.

Miguel Angel at union car wash event in South L.A.

José Martinez/OnCentral

Miguel Angel, pictured above, works at a non-unionized car wash in Los Angeles, and said that Tuesday's event was an important show of solidarity.

Los Angeles County is now home to the first three unionized car washes in the country. The owners of Vermont Carwash and Nava’s Carwash in South LA joined Bonus Carwash in Santa Monica in agreeing to contracts with the United Steelworkers Union.

Labor leaders and activists filled the parking lot at Vermont Carwash for a celebration rally on Tuesday.

"Don't be afraid you'll get fired," 50 year-old Manuel Martinez told his fellow carwashero – as they call themselves – in Spanish. "Immigrants have rights, too."

Martinez has worked at Vermont Carwash for five years, about as long as the United Steelworkers Union has worked to organize the mostly immigrant workforce at more than 500 carwashes in L.A. County.

“Before, they didn't pay us for the hours we worked," Martinez said. "We'd work 10 hours and get paid for 5."

He also said they didn't get rest and meal breaks, and there was often no water to drink.

The union contract changes that. Martinez and his colleagues now earn 2 percent more than minimum wage and receive all the meal and rest breaks required by law.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villraigosa attended the rally, as did Maria Elena Durazo, the Executive Secretary of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, and Richard Trumka, President of the National AFL-CIO.

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