Carwash Owner Routinely Violates Wage-Hour Laws, Suit Alleges; Many Instances Cited of ‘Hard Work for No Pay’
LOS ANGELES, May 22, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) — A class-action lawsuit covering an estimated 250 current and former carwash workers was filed today in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleging that their employer failed to pay minimum wage, failed to provide overtime pay, and denied meal and rest breaks during shifts, among other violations of state and federal law. Workers report that some employees routinely clocked 10-hour days for less than half the minimum wage, while others received no pay whatsoever and worked solely for tips.
The suit names four carwashes owned and operated by brothers Benny and Nisan Pirian: Vermont Hand Wash, Celebrity Car Wash, Hollywood Car Wash and Five Star Car Wash. Pirian-owned operations have been cited previously for violations of California’s labor law, occupational health and safety standards and environmental regulations.
Jointly representing the plaintiffs are attorneys from Bet Tzedek Legal Services, a Los Angeles nonprofit poverty-law firm, and labor and employment lawyers from the Bush Gottlieb law firm.
"The carwash workers in this action have been routinely and systematically exploited in flagrant violation of established labor and workplace laws," said Miriam Lopez, the Bush Gottlieb partner who is prosecuting the case. "The Pirian-operated establishments exemplify the carwash industry’s worst practices and it’s important that gross abuses like this be confronted and remedied. Day in and day out, these employees performed hard work, in many instances for no pay."
Co-counsel Kevin Kish, who directs Bet Tzedek’s Employment Rights Project, said, "Over the past year, the Pirians have been warned repeatedly about serious violations of the labor code at their carwashes. Despite these repeated warnings, and despite a history of citations by state agencies, the owners of these four carwashes have chosen to flout the law."
Lopez said that plaintiffs are seeking general and compensatory damages for unpaid wages, as well as statutory penalties for failure to provide accurate pay stubs and wages due at discharge. The plaintiffs also are asking the court to enjoin and restrain continued unfair and unlawful business practices, she said.
Two weeks ago, the Pirians’ Vermont Hand Wash was targeted for demonstration by the Carwash Workers Organizing Committee (CWOC), part of the United Steel Workers, following the firing of an employee there who says he was let go for speaking out about working conditions and underpayment of wages. A recent CWOC white paper, Cleaning Up the Carwash Industry, reports that despite California’s $8 per hour minimum wage, carwash workers routinely are paid half that amount or less.
Widespread industry abuses have caught the attention of state lawmakers in recent years. Bet Tzedek played a key advocacy and policymaking role that resulted in the passage of AB1688, known as the Carwash Workers Law, which was signed into law in 2004. The legislation put in place protections for carwash workers and requires owners and operators to register their carwash operations with the state.
"Given Bet Tzedek’s pivotal involvement in shaping the Carwash Worker Law, it is a logical extension of those efforts that our Employment Rights Project team pursues this action on behalf of a plaintiff class that includes some of the most exploited workers in the industry," said Mitch Kamin, Bet Tzedek’s president and chief executive officer. "We applaud and support professional carwash owners who pay their employees in accordance with the law, but violators need to be held accountable–in civil cases like this one and through stringent regulatory oversight."
About the Bush Gottlieb Law Firm
Founded in 1970, the firm Bush, Gottlieb, Singer, Lopez, Kohanski, Adelstein & Dickinson is dedicated to the practice of law to advance the cause of working people. The firm’s attorneys appear and advocate regularly throughout the nation before federal, state and local courts, administrative agencies and arbitration panels in their representation of unions, injured workers, collectively-bargained trust funds, and employees, with respect to a broad range of tort, labor relations and employment matters.
About Bet Tzedek Legal Services
Founded in 1974, the mission of Bet Tzedek, which means "The House of Justice" in Hebrew, is to ensure "equal justice for all." Annually, its staff of more than 60, supported by 600 volunteers who donate in excess of 40,000 hours, assists more than 12,000 aged and low-income clients of all racial and religious backgrounds with critical legal needs, principally in the areas of consumer law, housing issues, workplace matters, elder law and Holocaust reparations. For more information, visit www.bettzedek.org