Car Wash Employers Got to Come Clean
The criminal complaint, which was filed January 23, 2013, has charged the owner, general manager and two supervisors with conspiracy to cheat employees out of their wages. The California Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Labor Standards Enforcement discovered a litany of methods the car wash used over the past four years to cheat workers out of their wages. The Santa Monica Patch said the complaint accuses the four defendants of violating California labor laws by not giving workers rest and meal breaks, and “coercing employees into signing declarations which falsely stated that they had received paid breaks,” according to city prosecutors. It also accuses the defendants of falsifying and altering employees’ time cards to make it appear as though they worked fewer hours than they actually did.
The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office has charged them with grand theft of money and labor by false pretenses; conspiracy; failure to pay minimum wage; failure to give meal breaks and rest breaks; and taking back wages which had been paid.
How did they think they could get away with cheating their employees? How could they not know that two other Santa Monica car washes had previously been accused of violating California’s labor laws? Santa Monica Car Wash and Detailing last May was slapped with a civil complaint filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund on behalf of carwasheros. And the state Attorney General announced earlier this year settlement of a lawsuit it had filed against eight other California car washes - including Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica - over similar California labor law violations.
In March 2012, the California Labor Commissioner filed two lawsuits against three car washes for unpaid wages, penalties and damages, totaling more than $2 million. Rosencrans King Car Wash was accused of not paying its workers for all the hours they worked, and the lawsuit seeks almost $1.7 million in minimum wage, overtime, penalties and attorney fees. Vermont Auto Spa also violated similar California state labor laws.
And back in October 2010, a former Los Angeles carwashero filed a lawsuit against Handy J Carwash, charging that his ex-employers forced him for years to show up for work early in the morning but he wasn’t allowed to clock in until hours later. In June 2011, Tomas Rodriguez, 41, of Hidalgo, Mexico, was awarded $80,000: Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark Mooney ruled that the three car wash owners and one manager were liable for $50,000 in back wages for failing to provide proper employment records, and an additional $30,000 in damages.
“Wage theft hurts workers, honest employers, and the honest tax payer,” Department of Industrial Relations Director Christine Baker said in a press release. “California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement plays a critical role in enforcing labor laws and preventing wage theft. Employers who deny the workers their pay will be held accountable.”
According to the Santa Monica Mirror ( Jan 23, 2013), the specific acts alleged against the owners and managers of Wilshire West Car Wash as part of the conspiracy include:
1. Altering employee time records - and creating false time records - to make it appear that workers had worked less hours than they actually had;
2. Creating false time records to give the appearance that employees took meal breaks when in fact the employees were still on duty at the time;
3. Coercing employees into signing declarations which falsely stated that they had received paid breaks;
4. Forcing employees to pay a regular fee for cable television even though they were not allowed to watch television on the job;
5. Forcing employees to pay a regular fee for towel laundering;
6. Threatening, harassing and punishing employees who questioned the defendants’ unlawful behavior;
7. Failing to give employees a paid rest period for every four hours worked, as required by law;
8. Failing to give employees a meal break for shifts of at least five hours, as required by law.
The criminal charges, all of which are misdemeanors, include:
- grand theft of money and labor by false pretenses;
- failure to pay minimum wage;
- failure to give meal breaks;
- failure to give paid breaks; and
- taking back wages that have already been paid.
The defendants will be arraigned in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Airport courthouse, on February 26, 2013. Each of the 11 charged offenses is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of one year in county jail, and maximum fines of between $1,000 and $10,000 per offense.