Sunday, January 29, 2012

The First Union Carwasheros

This piece was originally posted on the Frying Pan <> in a slightly altered form.

On Tuesday, October 25, two blocks from my house in Santa Monica, history was made. Bonus Hand Wash and Auto Spa on Lincoln Blvd. became the very first car wash in the United States whose workers are part of a union. The employees and their families, community leaders, regular people, union organizers and the CLEAN Car Wash Campaign have worked tirelessly over the past three years to break ground in the car wash industry, and held a press conference Tuesday celebrating the landmark achievement.

Oliverio Gomez, an employee at Bonus for nine years, said “What I hope is that future generations who come to work here aren't treated as badly as we were; that they're no longer humiliated, but respected,” stopping several times to gather himself throughout a touching speech. He and his fellow carwasheros at Bonus are now members of the United Steelworkers Local 675.

Bonus’s decision to allow its workers the right to unionize follows years of organizing, outreach, demonstrations and violations of the law. For a time, employee’s paychecks bounced so often that a lottery was started, the winner getting the prize of cashing his already-shrunken check. Workers were exposed to harsh and dangerous chemicals without even gloves, and many were forced to relinquish portions of their wages, their breaks, and their livelihoods in order to stay employed.

Mike Watson, General Manager at Bonus and other local carwashes, spoke convincingly of the business’s new direction and its commitment to the community, “We are looking forward to a partnership with the United Steelworkers that will make our business stronger and improve the opportunities and job satisfaction for all of our employees,” he said at the announcement Tuesday.

The community’s reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and organizers plan to distribute literature encouraging people to get their cars washed at Bonus. Marina Hand Wash, further south on Lincoln, was also a focal point of the organizing effort before the owners (same as Bonus) closed the business. Organizers are pushing to reopen the car wash in the near future and unionize there as well.

Los Angeles can prove that unions attract customers, improve business, and better the community. We have the remarkable opportunity to support the one and only union car wash in the nation. We have the privilege of proving that unions don’t bog business down, they empower it. The reason Bonus’s employees have a union and a fair contract is because the community supported them, and the way to spread economic justice in the car wash industry is to drive to Bonus Hand Wash and Auto Spa at 2800 Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica and get your car washed by a proud union member.

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