California car wash to pay workers $68K in back wages, damages

From The Orange County Register:

by Margot Roosevelt

A Yorba Linda car wash that cheated 16 of its workers must pay $68,656 in back wages and damages, federal officials said Tuesday.

Riverbend Hand Car Wash on La Palma Avenue made its employees arrive at a certain hour in the morning but refused to pay them for their time until a manager called them to clean cars, according to a U.S. Labor Department investigation.

The car wash, which is owned by Humanage Acquisitions, a limited liability company, also refused to pay overtime, the labor department said. In some cases, employees were paid in cash at a straight-time rate, and the company failed to keep accurate records, according to the investigation.

Majd Aboul Hosn, co-owner of the business, said his workers were paid a legal wage but that some chose to arrive before their scheduled shifts because of transportation constraints. He denied failing to pay overtime but said he agreed to the labor department settlement because he lacked documentation.

Aboul Hosn said he bought the car wash two years ago with a foreign partner, and they retained its manager. “It had been running this way for 22 years,” he said. “The on-site manager was not familiar with the labor laws.”

He added, “Most guys in this industry are bad guys. But we treat our workers better than any other car wash owner. We paid $10 an hour before it was the minimum wage. We paid them when they got sick.

“What happened to us was not fair.”

The car-wash industry has been cited by federal and state authorities forrampant wage theft in California and other states. With 20,000 mostly Latino workers in Southern California, many of them less than fluent in English, the industry has one of the highest levels of workplace violations recorded by the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

Between 2009 and 2014, inspectors issued 1,423 citations for failure to pay workers compensation, minimum wage and overtime, refusing to provide itemized pay statements, denying rest and meal breaks, and operating without a license.

Car washes in Los Angeles and Orange counties and other parts of the state were assessed more than $16 million in penalties and back wages.

In Los Angeles, some 40 car washes have unionized in the past four years under the Clean Car Wash Campaign, funded by the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers.

Campaign director Justin McBride applauded the federal enforcement effort but noted the U.S. Department of Labor is only able to enforce federal minimum wage, which is set at $7.25.

Since California’s minimum wage is higher, up from $9 last year to $10 today, “No doubt these workers are owed even more money,” he said.

Read the full article from The Orange County Register.