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.
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.
I don’t remember ever encountering a union leader who worked from sun up to sun down besides the people he led. But Baldemar Velasquez is different. One time in North Carolina, I was with him when we encountered a farmer angry that he was visiting his workers. He took a look at Baldemar, a small, muscular man with a friendly Texas accent, and figured he was just one of the folks broiling in the sun. He didn’t realize for a while that Baldemar was the head of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC).
And that’s why Baldemar’s recent days in the tobacco fields of North Carolina are so unique. Farm work is brutual. It kills every sense when you are straining from the chilled morning to boiling hot afternoon, always moving, always grabbing to fill the bucket in front you.
This is a fine story from the Toledo Blade about his recent effort, and it includes his daily diary, which is worth reading. If only the reporter would have stepped back and put his effort into a bigger context, then the payoff would be greater. The bigger story is the number of workers who die from heat, and the latest figures are available from state and federal officials on the numbers who have given their lives this way.
Here’s the story:
Toledo-based farm labor leader tackles tobacco in North Carolina
‘My feeling is that if I’m going to represent somebody, I better do the work that they’re doing to know what they’re going through,’ says Baldemar Velásquez of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee of his work in North Carolina.
( PHOTO BY CHRISTIANA VELÁSQUEZ )
The sun was up and already beating strong when Baldemar Velásquez awakened inside the concrete block building to a stinging sunburn and tingling numbness in his hands and fingers.
With no air-conditioning in the farm labor camp, there would again be little escape this day from the unrelenting summer heat. Before long, his entire body felt drenched in sweat.