Admittedly, I take a little pride in driving around in a nice clean car. I have taken mine through a hand car wash place a couple times over the last couple years as a luxury, but for the workers it simply is not.
It took a strong campaign by the United Steelworkers just to ensure healthcare for Los Angeles car wash workers. Watch this video to see how they did it.
Thanks to the Steelworkers, Oscar can say this: “Now, thank God my life has changed. If I get sick and feel bad, I have a clinic to go to. This is all because of the campaign.”
In other cities, car wash workers are often mistreated and have their wages stolen. In New York, a car wash kingpin lives in high society while his workers live in poverty.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman last week slapped a subpoena on John Lage, who is linked to more than a dozen car washes and lives in a $900,000 lakefront house in Westchester.
Workers claim that the car washes pay $5.50 an hour — $1.75 less than the legal minimum — plus a pittance in tips. They don’t make overtime and complain about harsh working conditions.
Elsewhere, Arise Chicago has done work around wage theft at car washes.
“Sadly, wage theft is a well-known practice in many low-wage industries. But we’ve found an unparalleled level of exploitation in the car wash industry throughout Chicago,” said Micah Uetricht, an organizer with Arise Chicago. “Wages far below the minimum, no payment of overtime, nonexistent health and safety precautions like personal protective equipment or training on the use of chemicals—conditions in Chicago’s car washes are hyper-exploitative.
Car wash workers tend to be immigrants and minorities, portions of our society that already hold little power, making them easier to target for employers. When I spoke with Carlos Ruiz, he told me of his typical work day: 12 hours long for about $50, which is far below the $8.25 minimum wage mandated by Illinois law.
Campaigns like the one show in the video above can change that. They provide an avenue to the workers to speak out and a path towards justice.