Seeks Unpaid Wages and Restitution for “Carwasheros” Forced to Work without Breaks and “Off the Clock”

Los Angeles, CA – Today, on behalf of Latino car wash workers, MALDEF filed suit against the owners of three Santa Monica area car wash facilities—Santa Monica Car Wash and Detailing, Millennium Car Wash, and Bumble Bee Car Wash—for purposefully depriving their workers of the pay they rightfully earned.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of employees—or “Carwasheros,” as they identify themselves—of all three car washes who seek compensation for often being forced to work, “off the clock,” without overtime pay, and without rest or meal breaks, among other violations. Despite the tough job market and the risk of possible retaliation, the Carwasheros sought representation from MALDEF to ensure that they received fair wages and full compensation for time worked. During the coming hot summer months with expected longer hours, Carwasheros will be even more vulnerable to these illegal practices.

MALDEF seeks a court order that would prohibit the car washes from continuing to engage in unlawful labor practices, and seeks to compensate the affected workers by providing them the wages and other benefits the car wash owners unfairly denied them.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, stated, "Neither law nor moral principle permits any employer to exploit vulnerable people who seek only to support themselves and their families through honest labor. The imperative to act in support of the workers' own righteous defense is reinforced by their labors to serve the needs of others -- the clientele who unknowingly abet the unscrupulous car wash owners' unlawful deeds of ongoing exploitation."

The unlawful labor policies and practices maintained by the employers resulted in thousands of hours of free labor at each car wash. Employees were expected to report to work early to prepare for the day, to work “off the clock,” and were only permitted to work “on the clock” when the employer felt there were enough customers to justify payment for work. Employees who did not report to work early were punished in various ways.

Employee mistreatment at the car washes went beyond wage and hour violations. The car wash owners also required employees to purchase their own materials for work, and intentionally provided employees with inaccurate work records in an effort to conceal unlawful labor practices. Many of the allegations have been investigated by the CLEAN Carwash Campaign, a coalition dedicated to ensuring that car washes are held accountable for their routine labor violations and unsafe labor practices.

Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, stated, "Today we have once again seen an example of the pattern of abuse which tragically still exists in the carwash industry. Wage theft is still occurring every day in Los Angeles County in industries like the carwash industry. The good news is that workers can fight back – and win! I am here today with workers, community and labor allies to send a message to owners to clean up their businesses, or the labor movement and community will find them; there will be consequences."

California law also 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. But, car wash management frequently forbade such meal breaks, or delayed them past the five hour cut-off without compensation.

Victor Viramontes, MALDEF National Senior Counsel, stated, "The Carwasheros have stepped forward to protect their rights and challenge the illegal pay practices of theses employers. In this industry, employers blatantly violate the law and take advantage of workers, but by doing so, they risk serious legal liability."

MALDEF is committed to achieving a just outcome for the workers at these car washes and car wash workers throughout the United States who may be subjected to an unlawful and oppressive work environment.

To view the complaint, click here.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "law firm of the Latino community," MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund