Workers practice detail work in a peer training program at the Carwash Worker Center. Car wash workers in Los Angeles—union and non-union—are teaming up to transform the industry. |CLEAN Carwash Campaign

Workers practice detail work in a peer training program at the Carwash Worker Center. Car wash workers in Los Angeles—union and non-union—are teaming up to transform the industry. |CLEAN Carwash Campaign

A report by LaborNotes.org shows employees in the Los Angeles car wash industry are noticing major improvements thanks in great part to the work of their unions. Employees in southern California said they used to show up to work then wait hours before starting a shift to get paid. Once they were working, the hourly wage was so poor some would go home with just $40 in their pocket for a nine-hour shift.

Now, unions have banded together with work centers in the area to bring about change. Since a handful of groups came together, 30 of Los Angeles’ 500 or so car washes have developed their own unions. The increase came following a 2014 change to the Car Wash Worker Law.

California car washes must register with the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement and post a bond of $150,000. Car washes with union contracts are exempt from paying the bond—which gives companies an incentive to agree to a union. (A similar law passed in New York City last year, but implementation is on hold).

A common framework agreement covers all the unionized shops, establishing health and safety protections and setting wages 30 cents above the minimum wage, which is $10 an hour in L.A., with parts of the county going up to $10.50 in July.

Employees told LaborNotes.org that applying pressure on their employers has helped earn them better wages and more reliable hours. When negotiation doesn’t work, some have taken to filing grievances for unfair labor practices and enlisting support from the community. They say things seem to be headed in the right direction.