Vigil/Protest for a CLEAN Carwash

EDIT: The address is 1666 North Vermont, not 1666 Sunset.

If you’re free on Thursday afternoon from 4 to 5:30 and happen to be in Los Angeles, head on over to the Vermont Handwash at 1666 North Vermont for an interfaith protest against employee abuse in the L.A. and Orange County carwash industry, courtesy of PJA, the UCLA Labor Center, CHIRLA, CLUE, and the CLEAN Carwash Campaign.

From CLEAN’s website:

Workers Charge LA Carwashes with Dangerous Health and Safety Violations

Health and Safety Experts Warn of Serious Risks of Heat Illness and Toxics Exposure

Los Angeles–Carwash workers who are part of the Carwash Workers Organizing Committee of the United Steelworkers (CWOC-USW) filed complaints today with the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health alleging serious health and safety violations at two Los Angeles carwashes owned by members of the Pirian family. The Community-Labor-Environmental Action Network (CLEAN), a coalition of community, labor, and faith-based organizations, called for a boycott of six Pirian family-owned carwashes in April because of a history of serious employment, health and safety, and environmental law violations at some Pirian family-owned carwashes.

“The complaints filed today against Vermont Hand Wash and Hollywood Car Wash reveal shocking violations of our state’s health and safety regulations,” said Eden Flynn, a health and safety expert who heads the Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (SoCal COSH). “Among other serious violations, management has not provided shade and rest breaks for all workers, despite record high temperatures in Los Angeles. These workers are subject to the same risks of heat illness as farm workers in the Central Valley,” said Flynn.

Bosbely Reyna, one of the workers who filed the complaint against Vermont Hand Wash, said “We work in the hot sun drying cars, and when it’s busy we have to go without any break to drink water or cool off in the shade. But we’ve heard about the farm workers who died, we know we have the right to protect ourselves at work, and we know what the boss is doing is illegal.”

Workers in the carwash industry are regularly exposed to toxic chemicals in car cleaning products that are known by the state to cause cancer. Prolonged exposure to some of the chemicals found in LA carwashes can cause liver, kidney and heart, and central nervous system damage.

“None of the carwash workers we spoke to had received any training whatsoever on the handling of these highly toxic chemicals,” said Flynn, “and many are forced to work without protective equipment such as gloves or masks.”

The complaint also describes faulty equipment that causes chemical spills, such as a leaking hose that transports acid for wheel cleaning. When workers have used the hose to clean wheels, acid leaked onto their skin.

“When the acid touches your skin, it burns and makes your hands peel and crack. We never received any training on what the chemicals are or how to use them, so sometimes the workers mix up window cleaner with the acid and when they spray it onto the windshields it gets in their eyes. Some of the guys have problems seeing for months after that,” said Reyna.

Carwash workers described bathrooms shared by more than 30 people with no soap or toilet paper, and toilets clogged for as long as a week at a time.

The complaint also details broken machinery at Hollywood Car Wash that has injured workers, such as a dryer that workers must stick their arms into to stop manually. Due to the dryer’s excessive heat and constant spinning, at least one employee has been burned while attempting to retrieve a towel from the dryer.

The CLEAN Carwash Campaign welcomed yesterday’s announcement that the Labor Commissioner’s office had conducted sweeps of dozens of Southern California carwashes. “CLEAN welcomes the state’s efforts to clean up the carwash industry,” said Lilia Garcia, a leader of the CLEAN coalition and the head of the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund. “The violations uncovered in the sweeps confirm that this is a dirty industry and violations by carwash owners are rampant. Just one sweep exposed carwash owners who were violating child labor law, failing to pay minimum wage, and failing to insure for workers’ compensation.”

More than half of the L.A. and Orange County carwashes inspected in the sweeps were cited for violations of employment laws. “We look forward to working with Labor Commissioner Angela Bradstreet to ensure consistent and aggressive enforcement of employment laws in the carwash industry. We know that real enforcement of our laws, combined with workers organizing for their rights, is the only way to create sustainable compliance with the law by owners,” said Garcia.

See you there!

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

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