LINCOLN BLVD — Santa Monica stole headlines when it got the nation’s first unionized car wash, but one year later, it won’t be union workers benefiting from municipal contracts.
City officials have chosen the Lincoln Boulevard Car Wash for a one to three-year contract to clean city cars, citing environmental and labor violations for the rejection of two other bids.
Officials are required to look at eight criteria to determine the best candidate amongst those who put in bids for government contracts, said Don Patterson, assistant finance director with City Hall.
Those include not only the quality of work and price, but also compliance with local and state law.
Bonus Car Wash, which is the first unionized car wash in the nation, came in with the cheapest bid, but stumbled when it came to its environmental record.
The Regional Water Quality Control Board issued compliance orders against Bonus Car Wash, accusing them of groundwater pollution issues caused by runoff from their facility.
Lincoln Boulevard Car Wash received similar condemnations, but has a work plan in place to deal with the violations, Patterson said.
Neither Lincoln Boulevard Car Wash nor Bonus Car Wash have any known labor violations.
The decision comes at the end of almost a year of back and forth in the courts and media between car wash companies and their low-wage employees.
Bonus Car Wash workers succeeded in joining the United Steelworkers union with the help of the CLEAN Car Wash Campaign, guaranteeing themselves protections for wage increases, health and safety protections, grievance and arbitration procedures and protections for workers if the car wash was sold.
In January 2012, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a $1 million settlement between the owners of eight car washes, including Bonus Car Wash, and the state in which owners were accused of underpaying workers and violating labor laws.
That lawsuit was filed in 2010 after investigators with the Attorney General’s Office interviewed more than 80 workers who said the car washes denied them minimum wage and overtime, failed to pay wages to those who quit or were fired, denied rest and meal breaks and falsified work records.
As the stories continued to circulate, Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis and councilmembers Terry O’Day and Kevin McKeown called on staff to take a closer look at the companies that washed city vehicles to make sure they were complying with federal and state laws and regulations regarding working conditions and wages.
McKeown, the first person to get his car washed at the newly-unionized Bonus, wrote in an e-mail that he hoped Bonus Car Wash would be able to overcome its environmental problems by the time the contract was up for renewal.
“We all want clean car washes, and that means both environmentally clean and with a clean labor record,” McKeown wrote. “I’m proud we in Santa Monica have the first union car wash in the country, and hope that when our contracts next come up for renewal that Bonus has fixed their runoff problem and can wash our city cars with union workers.”
Neidi Dominguez, a strategic campaign coordinator with the CLEAN Car Wash Campaign, said that her organization hoped City Hall would contract with companies that are fair to their workers.
“That’s important to us, and we’ll continue to encourage the city to contract with those people where workers have a system in place to get their voices heard and better their work conditions,” Dominguez said.