Keeping It Right

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Location: Moreno Valley, CA

Thursday, March 27, 2008

L(ying) A(ss) Times: L.A. carwashes, taking a stand...(whatever.)

L(ying) A(ss) Times: At L.A. Carwashes, taking a stand..

"CompaƱero, how do they treat you here?"

The stranger addressed Manuel Varela, a worker at Nary's Hand Car Wash on Beverly Boulevard, in Spanish.

"Badly," Varela answered, continuing to pass tickets to motorists as they pulled in.

Curious, Gabriel Chavez crawled out of the car he was vacuuming. Keeping his gaze on the small window that the owner used to peer at his workers, he stepped toward the visitor, out of his boss' sightline.

"Do you know you have rights?" the stranger asked Chavez.

The man's name was Mario Giron. He was a union organizer, promising a route to better pay and working conditions. As he explained, Chavez eyed the window. Twice, he raced back to vacuum cars, then returned.

Before leaving, Giron slipped the workers a card, urging them to attend a meeting.

Both men vividly recalled organizers' stealthy visit to Nary's in Los Angeles last March, the first in an effort by two of the nation's largest unions, the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers, to organize Southern California's 18,000 carwasheros, many of them illegal immigrants.

During the next year, at carwash after carwash, the organizers would crouch between rows of cars, whispering plans to right the wrongs in the industry. Sometimes they were evicted by owners or police, sometimes shunned by workers themselves.

"If they fire me," one Pasadena car dryer sneered, "will you pay my salary?"

Organizers, who will formally announce their campaign today, hope to reverse what they see as sweatshop conditions at many of the region's 1,000 hand carwashes.

A Times investigation published Sunday showed that many carwash owners flout state labor laws, paying workers less than half of minimum wage or insisting that employees work as propineros, or for tips only.

Owners say unionization will only raise costs for operators and push up prices for consumers. It could lead to job losses as well, if the industry embraces mechanization.

"The only winners of a union drive would be the people behind the drive," said Randy Cressall, a carwash owner and board member of the Western Carwash Assn., an industry trade group. "Consumers would be hurt by this."

Organizers eventually hope to create a steelworkers union local with a collective bargaining agreement. For now, the strategy is to embolden a skittish workforce and appeal to the consciences of consumers. They hope, with the aid of politicians, priests and, when necessary, pickets, to persuade motorists to use carwashes only if owners have signed pledges to hew to the law.

Labor experts say they are borrowing from successful campaigns by immigrant janitors, drywallers and home healthcare workers in Los Angeles. Despite opposition from some rank-and-file members, union leaders who once rejected illegal immigrants as serious prospects increasingly see them as a way to revive the flagging union movement.

Success is far from assured. The story of the unions' yearlong courtship of Nary's workers is one measure of the challenge.

Simmering anger

That first day the organizers came, Varela's insides churned with worry. He was terrified at the thought of losing this job. But he felt his boss owed him -- all of them -- more than the $3 to $4 an hour they typically were paid. He would see what this union meeting was all about.

Chavez balked. His family in Chiapas was counting on the money he sent. Without it, his 5-year-old daughter wouldn't have a school uniform or supplies.

To read more: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-carwash27mar27,1,4461100.story?page=1

Response: WTF!!! lets get this straight..I'm tired of illegal aliens bitchin' about rights and what they think they deserve!! What they deserve is to be caught, tagged and sent back to their jacked upped country. I wish there was a job, like the people who catch and tag animals...but this time, illegal aliens!! I need that job, and I'll be good at it...Local bus services will be delayed but I'll got damn-near tee it, you'll have a seat and the bus won't smell! The wait time in emergency rooms will be decreased and kids will be playing real sports and not soccer!!

I side with the owner, he should have fired them all, put up a help wanted sign, interview and do background checks on each applicant, and pay each employee $12.00 an hour...I bet for damn sure, the person drying your car won't be francisco from Meh he co. It'll be Leon, John and legal Juan.

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