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Carwashes: Meet the New American Sweatshop (particpation)

March 27, 2012

Carwashes: Meet the New American Sweatshop

Carwash operators routinely violate basic employment laws, and workers are often paid much less than the legal minimum wage.
August 31, 2011  |

The professional carwash industry is a $23 billion enterprise, one which more and more Americans make use of every year. If you visited a carwash lately – which judging by the latest industry report you probably have or will in the near future – you may have noticed the fast and arduous labor of carwash workers. You have seen that even in the most extreme heat or cold weather, carwash workers are hard at it – focusing on every nook and cranny of your vehicle. What you probably missed – as is the case in many carwashes across the country – is that this work is accompanied by obscene labor abuses, health hazardous conditions, employer exploitation and intimidation. Carwash workers are the face of the new American sweatshop.

Carwash operators routinely violate basic employment laws like those requiring workers be permitted to take rest breaks or have access to shade and clean drinking water. Workers frequently work more than 10 hours a day, more than 6 days a week, without even the slightest thought of overtime. In fact, carwash workers are often paid much less than the legal minimum wage, sometimes earning less than $3 an hour or working for cash tips alone. Employees who complain about the exploitative conditions at the workplace are often intimidated and threatened by car wash operators.

A majority of carwash workers are Latino and immigrants – many do not have a clear understanding of their rights, which opens the door for abusive car wash operators to take advantage. Cuéntame has launched a documentary video and a national campaign exposing the sweatshop practices and is calling for individuals who have witnessed these or other abusive conditions at their local car washes to submit there stories on their website.

Cuéntame has documented how carwash workers are subject to health and safety hazards such as constant exposure to water and to dangerous chemicals without protective gear. Workers in the industry have reported severe kidney damage, respiratory problems and nerve deterioration. Most lack health insurance, services or protection and end up using up all their earnings to pay their medical bills. It is a shameful and vicious cycle with no apparent end.

According to the Community Labor Environmental Action Network (CLEAN), an advocacy organization working to protect car wash workers’ rights, in Los Angeles, CA alone there are approximately 10,000 carwash workers that are potentially exposed to this abuse on a daily basis. This past June, the Clean Carwash Campaign helped a former Los Angeles carwash worker win an $80,000 lawsuit against his ex-employers who forced him for years to work early in the morning but prevented him from clocking in officially until later in the day. The campaign has been working to improve conditions and to ensure that carwash employers meet labor standards and abide by fair workplace practices, but there is still much more that needs to be done.

The exploitation of car wash workers is the face of a new American sweatshop, one that operates in plain daylight in our communities, in our neighborhoods and at our corner carwash. It’s time to stop turning a blind eye to it.


From → Participation

  1. Olivia Newhouse permalink

    On Monday when we discussed car washes in class, I was surprised to find out that many car wash workers are being treated so terribly and are making less then minimum wage in the United States! Most of the car wash workers don’t have health insurance and have to be around these harmful chemicals constantly. This will eventually cause health issues that will leave them in debt over there head because they aren’t getting paid enough to put enough food on there families table.

  2. Madison Magliocca permalink

    What I don’t understand is that if it’s such a large and booming industry, then why hasn’t the government stepped in to make a difference? These employees deserve the rights given to them. It’s good that there are campaigns going on to try and make a difference. But if this is going on all over the US I’m truly upset that the government hasn’t stepped in, and has instead let it continue on while the media pretends it isn’t happening.

  3. Kyla Chappell permalink

    I would have to say I am guilty of going to a car wash and not noticing the horrible conditions around me. I have always been amazed at how great of a job my car looks after being detailed, and also at how fast and efficient the workers are. But maybe I haven’t noticed the bad conditions because they aren’t as bad here in Washington as they are in California. Hearing about the conditions of the car washes in California is so sad, especially after watching the video in class about the conditions. The part that stuck out to me the most is their eating area crowded with the harsh chemicals used while cleaning the cars, this is obviously not good for the health of these workers. Not to mention they receive no sort of health care and don’t get paid enough to pay for extra expenses like that. It’s really sad that these Car Wash owners are taking advantage of the fact that these immigrant workers don’t know their rights. Fortunately for these workers, organizations like, CLEAN, are beginning to make a difference in helping to change the conditions for these workers and helping them become more aware of their rights.

  4. Brittany Dyess permalink

    I would have never even thought of Car washes Being another form of Sweatshops, But of Course It all Makes sense and adds Up!I feel as though it doesnt stop at Carwashes.There are many of forms of sweatshops, or just unjust abuse towards Employees that can be under sweatshops, like immigrants working in resturaunts with lower pay.And immigrants doing non contracting work for companies theyve managed to get picked up from on the side of Lowes Every morning.It doesnt stop.And this is where the queston arises.”Are there too many unjust Jobs and Acts taking place where its impossible to stop them all?” Im very curious to know

  5. Megan Grichel permalink

    I am suprised by this, I go to carwashes often and have never stopped to think about the conditions of the workers. I thought conditions in the United States were better, or the government would step in if something was wrong. It is disappointing to see these immigrant workers being taken advantage of, I expected better from the US.

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