Union rights for LA carwash workers

By Kurt Krueger

LOS ANGELES--Approximately 100 people picketed the Vermont Car Wash March 29 to protest its deplorable working conditions. The picket was part of a union organizing drive by the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers to organize carwash workers.

In 2003, the state's labor department found that two-thirds of carwashes were out of compliance with one or more labor laws. Some of these violations include underpaying workers, hiring minors, going without worker's compensation insurance and denying meal breaks.

The unions said their first major target in the campaign would be the Pirian family, which owns as many as eight carwashes in Los Angeles County. Labor organizers picketed three Pirian-owned carwashes March 29, including the family flagship Vermont Car Wash.

Bennie Pirian has allegedly continued to violate many basic employment and health and safety laws, including: failing to pay minimum wage or overtime work; failing to provide potable drinking water; and fingerprinting workers each pay period before releasing paychecks to them.

The picket lines were able to prevent many customers from patronizing the carwash as picketers chanted, "Bennie, Bennie, you're no good. Treat your workers like you should!"

Although workers were threatened with firing if they came out to the picket line, many stood and listened to the speakers. Those in attendance included Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers Union, members of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor, Service Employees International Union Local 100, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Screen Actors Guild, Writers Guild of America, United Teachers Los Angeles, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Multi-ethnic Immigrant Workers Organizing Network and many others.

"We see this campaign as similar to what many workers in Koreatown are facing. And we know how important it is to have community support in a campaign like this," said Eileen Ma, campaign director with the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Advocates.

Edgar Sanchez, who is working with the Teamsters to organize his fellow truck drivers in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, said, "We're here because there's only two kinds of people: the rich and the workers!"