Workers at two South LA carwashes gain union contract

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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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