(photo by Ray Solano)

PICO BLVD — A lawsuit has been filed against three area carwashes on behalf of employees who say they were not paid proper wages and were denied breaks.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) held a demonstration in front of Santa Monica Car Wash & Detailing on Pico Boulevard on Monday to announce the specifics of the case.

According to the lawsuit, a family of carwash owners failed to pay wages, provide meal breaks and rest periods, pay wages of terminated or resigned employees, comply with itemized employee wage statement provisions, reimburse work expenses and abide by fair competition law.

State law requires that employees get a meal break after no more than five hours of work or that they receive compensation for the day the meal is not provided, according to the suit, which alleges that management at the car washes prohibited meal breaks or delayed them past the five hour cut-off without compensation.

The three car washes — Millennium Car Wash at 2454 Lincoln Blvd. in Venice; Santa Monica Car Wash & Detailing at 2510 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica; and Bubble Bee Car Wash at 2711 Del Amo Blvd. in Lakewood — are owned by Bijan, Edna and Kambiz Damavandi. The lawsuit was filed against the Damavandis on behalf of four employees — or “carwasheros,” as they call themselves — and other employees similarly situated.

Bijan, Edna and Kambiz Damavandi could not be reached for comment regarding this article.

Plaintiffs Esteban H. Carmona, Marcial H. Carmona, Anselmo Levya and Pedro Cruz were present at the demonstration, along with MALDEF representatives and various advocacy groups.

“This country … has a long history of stepping over the civil rights of Latino employees and failing to pay them mininum wage,” said Victor Viramontes, national senior counsel for MALDEF. “But today four workers are stepping forward to say that that history — that many thought to be intransigent and unchangeable — will be changing and to set out for a new future.”

Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, denounced the “pattern of abuse that still exists in the carwash industry.”

Durazo said the primary reason carwash owners think they can abuse workers is because of their immigrant status.

“The good news is that we have courageous immigrant workers who are fighting back and standing up for their rights,” she said. “MALDEF, who has always defended the rights, in particular of Latinos, but of all people in this country … are also stepping up in a very big way.”

Durazo acknowledged the advocacy groups that were present at the demonstration — the hotel workers’ unions, the Teamsters, janitors, the steel workers’ union, Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice, and others — but encouraged more support.

“I would call on the Santa Monica City Council to step up and defend and protect these workers within Santa Monica,” Durazo said. “We are here to send the message that [carwash owners] cannot continue to act this way.”

MALDEF staff attorney Nicholas Espiritu explained that the employees have taken action not only for themselves but for all workers at all three carwashes owned by the Damavandis.

“The plaintiffs have come here today to ask that the California courts provide them restitution for all their back wages and also injunctive relief — to ensure that their employers do not continue to exploit workers in this fashion,” Espiritu said.

Oscar de la Torre, founder and director of the Pico Youth & Family Center and board member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, elucidated that the achievement gap in schools is related to the income cap in the workplace.

“We cannot support industries that perpetuate poverty and poverty wages,” de la Torre said. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to rectify here today.”

It is imperative that carwash owners recognize the rights of the workers, said Cruz, who claims he was sometimes forced to work 60 hours a week but was only paid for 40.

“My lunch break time was not respected, and sometimes I would only get $250 a week,” Cruz said. “Every worker has rights, and we deserve to have dignity.”


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