MID-CITY — You might not ever get rich, especially if you worked at the Wilshire West Car Wash.
The company and two supervisors pleaded no contest to six misdemeanor charges Wednesday morning after it was determined that they were cheating workers.
They will be required to pay $656,000 in back wages for, among other things, failing to pay minimum wage.
Phone calls and e-mails sent to Wilshire West were not returned.
Last year, concerned with news reports about labor violations at car washes in Southern California, the City Council ordered a city attorney to investigate Santa Monica, according to Adam Radinsky, head of the Consumer Protection Unit.
They joined forces with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, and the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the four largest commercial car washes in the city: Wilshire West, Lincoln Boulevard, Santa Monica, and Bonus, which became the country’s first unionized car wash in 2011.
“They determined that of those four, Wilshire West was the one with most concerns,” Radinsky said. “They obtained copies of time and pay records and spoke to a number of employees and did some undercover work.”
City attorneys filed criminal charges against Wilshire West in January.
On Wednesday, the company and two supervisors pleaded no contest in Los Angeles County Superior Court to a number of charges, including not paying employees for all hours worked and not providing paid break periods.
They required employees to take several daily unpaid lunch breaks when business was slow, Radinsky said.
The terms of the plea agreement require the company to pay back the 75 impacted employees and to cover the cost of the investigation.
“This is an excellent result,” Radinsky said. “The workers get full back pay, some over $21,000 each. The company has to clean up its act going forward, or the court will make sure of that.”
General manager Gary Pendleton and supervisor Rigoberto Torres also pleaded no contest. Pendleton was responsible for withholding minimum wage and will have to serve 120 hours of community service within the next year.
Torres, who refused to provide breaks, will perform 12 days of hard labor.
In late 2011, a former employee was charged with attempted murder after he allegedly stabbed a manager at the car wash.
“Anyone in Santa Monica who believes the wage and hour laws are not being followed should come forward,” Radinsky said. “A large amount of these employees are members of the immigrant population and they shouldn’t be afraid to come forward. We will investigate regardless of their immigration status.”