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Santa Monica Car Wash to Pay for Labor Violations

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier


By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

November 14, 2013 -- Santa Monica’s Wilshire West Car Wash will pay $656,000 in restitution to employees after pleading “no contest” to six counts of labor law violation Wednesday.

According to a three-year joint investigation by the City of Santa Monica the California Labor Commissioner's Office, and the U.S. Department of Labor, Wilshire West failed to pay minimum wage, didn’t provide lunch breaks and didn’t pay workers when business was slow.

The plea ends the criminal case, brought against Wilshire West -- located at 2320 Wilshire Boulevard -- earlier this year by the Santa Monica City Attorney’s office.

“Everybody is entitled to a day’s pay for a day’s work,” said City Attorney Adam Radinsky, who also heads the City’s Consumer Protection Unit.

"This is an excellent result," Radinsky said. "The workers get full back pay, some over $21,000.00 each. The company has to clean up its act going forward, or the court will make sure of that."

As part of the plea agreement, City officials said, Wilshire West “General manager Gary Pendleton pled No Contest to six criminal counts including failure to pay minimum wage and failure to provide meal periods and paid break periods.”

Additionally, “Supervisor Rigoberto Torres pled No Contest to a charge of failing to provide paid break periods,” officials said.

The terms of the plea agreement require Wilshire West to pay backpay to “all 75 affected former and current employees” for the three years of the investigation, officials said.

Wilshire West will also be placed under a three-year probation period, during which it must follow “detailed rules to assure its compliance with the labor laws,” officials said.

The car wash is also on the hook for the cost to the three agencies’ incurred during the three-year investigation.

Pendleton and Torres must perform 120 days of community service and 12 days of hard labor, respectively.

While Wilshire West will have to pay extra attention to its labor practices going forward, other car washes in Los Angeles have been under scrutiny for how they treat their workers.

According to a 2010 New York Times article, an estimated two-thirds of Los Angeles’ car washes pay less than minimum, fail to give employees lunch breaks and don’t pay workers when cars aren't being washed, among other labor violations.

In early 2011, California Attorney General announced a $1 million settlement with eight California car washes that underpaid workers and violated labor laws. ("Santa Monica Car Wash Part of $1 Million Settlement," January 11, 2011)

Among the eight was Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica’s Ocean Park neighborhood. In October, however, Bonus made history when it became the first car wash in the nation to unionize. ("Santa Monica Car Wash First in Nation to Unionize," October 26, 2011)

As part of the agreement, employees at Bonus Car Wash were given a pay hike, health and safety protections and collective bargaining rights.

Still, violations can often go unreported in an industry that relies heavily on immigrant laborers.

“We want to encourage people always to come forward if they know about violations of the law,” said Radinsky. “Someone’s immigration status is not a relevant factor.”

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