September 2011, Week 1


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Thu, 1 Sep 2011 20:03:46 -0400
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Meet The New American Sweatshop

By Robert Greenwald
Brave New Films Foundation
September 1, 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, car wash
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 their stories on their


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.


Robert Greenwald is a producer, director and political
activist. Greenwald is the founder and president of
Brave New Films, a new media company that uses moving
images to educate, influence, and empower viewers to
take action around issues that matter.


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