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The often unheralded and overlooked people that help keep our cars looking shiny and new are the hard-working employees of car washes. Unfortunately, a car wash owner in California took advantage of vulnerable workers by cheating them out of over $800,000. Now, state officials are making him pay the workers for their stolen wages. 

Shine N Bright Car Wash paid workers $7 an hour — well below the California minimum wage

Workers washing cars, highlighting California car wash that cheated employees over $800k with $7 an hour wage
Workers at car wash | Bryan van der Beek/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Over a four-year period, Shine N Bright Car Wash in Inglewood, California, paid 15 employees a flat daily wage of $70 for eight to 10 hours of work. This equates to an hourly wage as low as $7 an hour, which is well below the California minimum wage. During this time, the minimum wage for businesses with 25 or fewer workers went from $10.50 an hour to $14 an hour. Additionally, the business denied rest breaks and overtime for the employees.

As a result of the transgressions, Michael Zarabi, the owner of Shine N Bright, was penalized $908,998. This includes $818,548 in back wages and damages, as detailed by the Los Angeles Times. Also, as directed by the citation, Zarabi must pay individual workers between $15,766 and $92,246.

Furthermore, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) penalized the business an additional $5,835 in fines. This penalty is due to 14 unsafe working conditions, including hazardous machinery, insufficient protective gear, and unsafe electrical equipment. 

Wage theft is a common problem for car washes

Vehicles driving by car wash, highlighting California car wash that cheated $800k from workers with $7 an hour wage
SUVs near car wash | Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The penalties for Shine N Bright are the latest crackdown on wage theft in Southern California. While wage theft is a common problem across the United States, it’s especially prevalent in the car wash industry. In 2018, Vahid David Delrahim, a Southern California car wash mogul, was forced to pay $4.2 million in back wages and penalties.

An estimated 90% of the workers at car washes are undocumented immigrants — most from Latin America. This makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation, for they fear retaliation if they complain about wage theft and other problems.

The case of wage theft and worker exploitation at Shine N Bright was first brought to the attention of state authorities by Clean Carwash Worker Center, a small nonprofit organization. Flor Rodriguez, the executive director of Clean, said, “The majority of carwashes are not paying workers for the full time they’re working. Often there’s no respect for overtime, and some are forced to work for tips only.”

Another problem is the cutthroat nature of the car wash industry — with much competition. Bet Tzedek, a lawyer that represents the Shine N Brite workers, said, “In Los Angeles, a car-centric county with carwashes on almost every corner, we see a lot of violations.”

Protests held at Shine N Bright

Following the announcement of the penalties for the wage theft and worker exploitation, many protesters marched around Shine N Bright Car Wash. They held signs that read “Justice for Carwash Workers.” They also shouted such things as “Stolen wages,” “Wash your car elsewhere,” and “Down with greedy bosses.”

In the LA area, where the cost of living is very high, the low wages for car wash workers make it difficult to make ends meet. With the $70 flat daily wage, Fausto Hernandez, a former Shine N Brite employee, struggled to help pay for the $1,800 monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment that he shares with his family. 

Hernandez spoke to the crowd of protesters: “Wage theft is not fair.” He also stated that employees frequently complained to the owner of the car wash, “but he ignored us.”

Not only is wage theft and worker exploitation illegal and unethical, but it’s also unfair to car washes that follow the law — by undercutting their business. Hopefully, the crackdown on these illegal and unethical practices will help level the playing field and improve worker conditions.


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