Some workers are invisible. They serve. They do the jobs we want. And we don’t notice, don’t ask, don’t wonder. In New York and L.A. officials have been wondering about the working conditions of car washers. The A.P. had a story about such. But an earlier story in the L.A. Times went further, though it could have done more to explain who they are – these carwasheros – and why the steelworkers are helping to organize them. It could have been a day in the life of cheapening suds.
Here’s the LA Times piece, and yeah, don’t forget to tip after they dry the car.
Archive for Sunday, March 23, 2008
Inspectors find dirt on books at area carwashes
Owners frequently violate labor and immigration laws with little risk of penalty, officials say. Many workers are loath to complain, but some have formally accused their bosses of underpaying them.
A team of state inspectors strode into the Blue Wave Car Wash in West Los Angeles, past latte-sipping customers in electric massage chairs and into the gritty carwash tunnel.
“¿Cuánto gana usted?” the inspectors asked worker after worker, about 20 of them, most Latino immigrants. “How much do you make?” Each carwashero responded that he earned minimum wage or more – just as the owner of the Blue Wave, one of the region’s busiest carwashes, had told the inspectors.
Looking over payroll records, however, the regulators became suspicious. Employees who said they were full time were listed as working just 10 or 15 hours a week.
Inspector Martha Mendoza ushered Juan Cruz Santiago, a small man with salt-and-pepper hair, away from the others. During gentle questioning under a ficus tree, he admitted that most days, he and his 66-year-old father worked for tips only. So did nearly half the other employees, he said. It had been that way for at least six years.