Car Wash - Photo courtesy of Pixabay

A Torrance car wash has been fined more than $800,000 for wage theft violations affecting 35 workers, including minimum wage, overtime and contract wage violations, the state Labor Commissioner’s Office announced Wednesday.

The investigation into Torrance Carwash Inc. — also known as Torrance Car Wash — found that some employees worked beyond 80 hours per pay period, but received pay for 80 hours no matter how many hours they worked, regulators said.

Others who reported to work on time were made to wait before punching in and not paid for that time, according to the commissioner’s office.

“The business owners violated labor laws to avoid paying workers the wages they were owed and refused to cooperate with our investigation by withholding documents during our inspection,” Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower said. “My office had to get additional warrants to conduct our inspection of the business.”

The office said it opened the probe after receiving a referral from the CLEAN Car Wash Campaign. Investigators attempted to conduct an inspection on March 4, 2021, but were refused entry to view records, despite having an inspection warrant signed by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge requiring access to the company’s payroll records and employee-related documents.

Onsite inspections were conducted the following week with additional warrants.

The audit of payroll records from April 9, 2018 to March 7, 2021 determined that the employer failed to pay workers for all of the hours worked, did not pay workers for waiting times, and did not provide employees with required meal and rest breaks.

The citations, penalties and interest issued total $815,311, of which $746,061 is payable to workers for unpaid minimum wages and overtime, liquidated damages, waiting time penalties, meal and rest period premiums, penalties for the employer’s failure to pay the workers with itemized wage statements, unpaid contract wages and accrued interest, state labor regulators said.

The citations issued to manager Jesus Hernandez and owners Susan Amini and Reza Albolahrar also include civil penalties of $69,250 for failing to pay minimum wages, overtime, meal and rest premiums, and failure to issue proper itemized wage statements.

“I have been working in car washes in Southern California for many years and the types of violations these workers in Torrance experienced are unfortunately very common,” Maria Mendez said in a statement provided by the CLEAN Car Wash Campaign. “Speaking up as these workers did is the key to transforming the industry so that it respects our labor.”

In 2018, several workers raised concerns about being paid less than state minimum wage and working more than 40 hours without overtime pay. Workers said they were not provided rest breaks and they documented reporting time violations including being called into work only to be told to wait without pay for several hours.

“Violations in the car wash industry are all too common and retaliation is often severe when workers do speak up,” said Flor Rodriguez, executive director of CLEAN.

“The bravery and leadership of the workers at the Torrance Car Wash will lead to more workers coming out of the shadows to win back money they are owed and stopping wage theft altogether,” Rodriguez said. “These citations from the state send a powerful message to car wash owners everywhere that they need to respect workers. This message is also for workers, it is important that you understand that you are your best advocate. If you need support, reach out to a worker center that can support you.”

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