Inglewood carwash ordered to pay over $900,000 for wage theft

In the latest crackdown on wage theft in Southern California, state officials said Tuesday they would fine an Inglewood car wash operator more than $900,000 for paying workers far below minimum wage and denying them overtime and rest breaks.

Over a three-year period ending in 2021, Shine N Brite Carwash paid 15 workers a daily flat rate of just $70 for eight to 10 hours of work, Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower said.

During that time, the state minimum wage increased from $10.50 an hour to $13 an hour for companies with 25 employees or fewer.

“These workers were being paid as little as $7 an hour, which is ruthless,” García-Brower said. “This employer used various systems to avoid paying statutory wages, such as B. the payment of daily allowances and the payment of workers in cash.”

At the car wash on Tuesday morning, seven workers vacuumed and polished cars. Joe Zarabi. who said he was the manager and cousin of owner Michael Zarabi’s cousin, said he was unaware of the quote. He refused to discuss what workers were being paid.

All of Shine N Brite’s workers are immigrants from Latin America who speak little to no English, according to the Clean Carwash Worker Center, a small foundation-funded nonprofit that brought the Inglewood case to the state’s attention.

“The majority of car washes don’t pay workers full hours,” said Flor Rodriguez, Clean’s executive director. “Often overtime is not respected and some are forced to work just for tips.”

Many early morning workers are not paid until they wash their first car, sometimes hours later. They spend long hours in the heat, are exposed to harsh chemicals and may not get lunch or rest breaks, Clean investigators say.

In Los Angeles County, more than 500 car washes typically employ as many as 10,000 workers, although the number has dwindled during the pandemic. Business groups say most car washes are complying with the law.

Owners often complain about the stiff competition in Southern California as customers seek cheaper service. And the workers, who may not have legal documents to work in the US, are wary of reporting wage theft.

“A lot of us weren’t paid correctly,” Shine N Brite said Fausto Hernandez, 62. “We complained to Mike [Zarabi] but he ignored us. And we never, ever worked overtime.”

The $70 per day allowance made it difficult to help with the $1,800 a month rent for the two-bedroom Inglewood apartment he shares with two sons, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren, he said. Nor could he always afford the $250 a month he sends to his wife, who is taking care of her elderly mother in Mexico.

Hernandez was hospitalized with COVID for two weeks last year. Now unemployed, he said he lives “in fear”.

Shine N Brite fines of $908,998 would award workers $818,548 in arrears of wages and damages. Individual workers are owed between $15,766 and $92,246.

The company also faces fines of $5,835 from the California Department of Occupational Safety and Health after a March investigation found 14 cases of unsafe electrical equipment, hazardous machinery, lack of protective equipment and other violations. Zarabi has appealed one of the subpoenas related to the machine operation.

Even when the state imposes large fines, they often go uncollected when car washes change hands or delays are sought through bureaucratic and judicial appeals.

Across various industries, about 30,000 California workers file wage claims each year, overwhelming an understaffed office of the Labor Commissioner, according to a 2020 report by the bipartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Less than half of the workers who were awarded back wages were able to recover unpaid wages from their employer. On average, workers waited 396 days for the state to rule on their wage demands, the report said.

In 2019, Beverly Hills auto dealership mogul Hooman Nissani, who boasted on his personal website that his stores had generated sales of more than $1 billion in 2016, was caught in the largest payroll heist attempted by the state of California a car wash fined $2.36 million in wage arrears and penalties.

The state claimed its Playa Vista Car Wash in Culver City cheated 64 workers out of minimum wage and overtime over a three-year period. Managers regularly changed workers’ time cards, the agency claimed.

Nissani appealed the subpoena, saying the investigation was flawed. Three years later, an agreement is still being negotiated.

California car washes have also come under scrutiny from the federal government for not even paying the current US minimum wage of $7.25 an hour — less than half the state’s wage floor.

In a 2018 consent order, a federal judge ordered a Southern California car wash mogul, Vahid David Delrahim, to pay $4.2 million in back wages and penalties after a two-year court battle.

Delrahim, owner of about 100 car washes and gas stations, defrauded 800 workers at a dozen car washes in Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura counties over a five-year period, federal officials said. A Delrahim spokesman said the settlement was “a business decision” and that Delrahim did not admit to “any wrongdoing on our part.”

Among the 62 car wash cases brought by the state this year, another major case was against Torrance Car Wash, which was fined $815,311 in April for wage theft involving 35 workers.

The company, which is owned by Susan Amini and Reza Albolahrar, failed to pay workers for all hours worked and wait time, and did not offer meal and rest breaks, the agency claimed.

https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2022-11-29/inglewood-shine-n-brite-carwash-cited-for-cheating-workers Inglewood carwash ordered to pay over $900,000 for wage theft

Alley Einstein

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