New Report Reveals Shocking Conditions For Chicago Car Wash Employees

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 21, 2012 6:20PM

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Photo credit: Dawn Mueller
The University of Illinois Labor Education program released a report Thursday that, for the first time, detailed the conditions under which area car wash employees work. Some may not find the results shocking, but it is an acute case of the steadily depressin’ low down mind messin’ working at the car wash blues, with a heaping side of exploitation and violation of labor laws.

The report, Clean Cars, Dirty Work: Worker Rights Violations in Chicago Car Washes, paints a stark picture of conditions for local car wash employees.

  • Over 75 percent of workers in the industry are receiving below minimum wage.
  • More than 80 percent worked more than 40 hours in the previous week, yet only 2 percent earned the legal overtime rate.
  • An average of $4,413.24 is stolen from car wash workers each year.
  • Over 80 percent of workers have no personal protective equipment; more than half have been cut on the job, 40 percent suffered rashes and more than a quarter have experienced nausea from abrasive chemicals.

The Tribune spoke with Martin Cervantes, who moved to Chicago from Mexico and took a job at a West side car wash. Cervantes told the Tribune he only received tips and was neither paid an hourly wage nor received overtime pay. Surprisingly, Cervantes stayed at this car wash for three years before he found another job.

Professor Robert Bruno, Director of the University of Illinois Labor Education Program, said at a news conference, "Literally, this job is killing these people, at the expense of enriching their employers.”

The report’s release was timed to coincide with efforts by ARISE Chicago Worker Center and the United Steel Workers to organize car wash workers across the city. Eric Wulf, CEO of the International Carwash Association based in Chicago, told the Tribune he hadn't seen the report and added that not all local car washes are members of his association.

"It's like restaurants," Wulf said. "There are lots of wonderful restaurants, and then there are some you might not go to, some that might not follow every rule."

Not every car wash employee has a Walter White strategy to leave.

Clean Cars, Dirty Work_Bruno Quesada Manzo