Four Los Angeles car washers sued their employers Monday seeking unpaid wages and restitution for time they allegedly worked off the clock, without overtime pay and without rest or meal breaks.
The class action lawsuit was filed against the owners of three carwashes, including ones in Venice and Santa Monica, on behalf of "washeros" Esteban H. Carmona, Marcial H. Carmona, Anselmo Leyva and Pedro Cruz.
"These three car washes denied the workers the wages they are entitled to," said Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund attorney Nicholas Espiritu. He said the businesses devised a "systemic practice designed to maximize the amount of work they get out of their workers while minimizing the pay that they get."
Named in the lawsuit are Santa Monica Car Wash and Detailing at 2510 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, Millennium Car Wash at 2454 Lincoln Blvd. in Venice and Bubble Bee Car Wash at 2711 Del Amo Blvd. in Lakewood, owned by Edna, Bijan and Kambiz Damavandi.
Espiritu said the four car washers were regularly required to arrive to work up to 30 minutes early, but were not allowed to clock in until there were enough cars to wash.
Workers who did not report to work early were punished in various ways, according to the suit, which alleges the car wash owners also required employees to buy materials for work and intentionally issued inaccurate work records in an effort to conceal unlawful labor practices.
State law requires that employees get a meal break after no more than five hours of work or that they receive compensation for the day the meal is not provided, according to the suit, which alleges that management at the car washes prohibited meal breaks or delayed them past the five hour cut-off without compensation.
The car wash owners could not be reached for comment. A woman who answered the phone at Millennium Car Wash said the company management was not on-site and she did not know their reaction to the suit.
The MALDEF lawsuit seeks unpaid wages spanning the past four years for as many as 100 workers employed during that time. It also seeks an injunction against each of the car washes.
At a press conference Monday in Santa Monica, Maria Elena Durazo, of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, said there is a pattern of abuse in the car wash industry.
"Here we go again," she said. "Wage theft is still occurring every day in Los Angeles County."
Earlier this year, the state Attorney General's office announced settlement of a lawsuit it had filed against eight other California car washes—including Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica—over similar accusations as those levied Monday against the Damavandi family.
Months before the settlement, Bonus Car Wash became the first in Southern California to unionize. On Monday, Durazo urged Santa Monica customers to patronize Bonus Car Wash, and called on the Santa Monica City Council "to stand up and defend these workers."
Additional car washers and members of other local unions, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice and Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education member Oscar de la Torre were also in attendance at Monday's press conference. They opened the event with chants, "up with the workers, yeah yeah! Down with the bosses, boo, boo!" and closed it with, "sí se puede!"
— City News Service contributed to this report.