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(photo by Ray Solano)

CITY HALL — City officials are exploring a way to monitor carwashes they contract with to ensure that owners pay their employees fair wages and respect workers’ rights.

A class action lawsuit alleging failure to comply with state and federal labor laws was filed Monday against a family that owns at least three area carwashes, including Santa Monica Carwash on Pico Boulevard. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four employees by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).

In response to that lawsuit, Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis and councilmembers Kevin McKeown and Terry O’Day on Tuesday requested that city staff fully evaluate all carwashes in the running for City Hall contracts to make sure they are paying fair wages and ensuring workers are allowed to take meal breaks.

“We typically, or at least in the last year, have awarded purchase orders for vehicle washing services,” Davis said. “We want to make sure, before awarding any future purchase orders, that we have satisfied ourselves as a city, that the carwashes to whom we’re awarding these purchase orders, in fact, are complying with state and federal laws.”

The problem of unfair treatment of workers is endemic in the carwash industry, McKeown said.

“In January, our state attorney general, Kamala Harris, announced a $1-million settlement of a lawsuit in favor of workers at eight different carwashes in both Northern and Southern California,” McKeown said. “As a city that values the dignified, fair treatment of workers, it’s only appropriate that we ask the carwashes, with which we contract to wash city vehicles, to follow the law.”

Twelve people attended the City Council meeting to speak out in favor of more diligent monitoring. Among them were Marcial Hernandez and Pedro Cruz — both plaintiffs of the class action lawsuit and workers at the area carwashes in question.

Hernandez, who worked nearly eight years at Millennium Car Wash at 2454 Lincoln Blvd. in Venice, said he faced many injustices during his employment.

“During the summer, the owners would not give us a lunch break, they would not provide water and they would not give us any safety equipment,” Hernandez said. “And these things continue to happen today.”

Cruz, who worked eight months at Santa Monica Car Wash, said he always had to buy his own equipment and asked city officials not to support the carwashes.

People should not be allowed to do business and hurt the people who work in those businesses, said The Rev. Jim Conn, a retired United Methodist minister and a former mayor of Santa Monica.

“We should not be living our lives as middle class people in an affluent city by taking away from the lives of the people who do work for us,” Conn said. “If [the workers] earned a couple more dollars an hour, their lives would be dramatically different.”

Councilmember Robert Holbrook expressed worry that assigning a third party to monitor compliance would infringe on the municipal budget.

“That’s adding something to the payroll. I can’t support that,” Holbrook said. “We’re facing a $3 million deficit.”

Community members and city officials said that city staff could handle the monitoring without the assistance of a third party.

Davis and McKeown truncated the item, omitting the necessity of a third party.

“This is an opportunity to spend city money to make people’s lives better,” Davis said.

A substitute motion was passed directing city staff to sign no contracts with carwashes for more than 30 days and to come up with a plan to properly monitor future contracts, including cost estimates.

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