Tower Car Wash Gets Busted Withholding $500K From Immigrant Workers; Keeps City Contract

Categories: Labor
The teams raising money for new uniforms must have been fierce competition.

Today, City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced that Tower Car Wash has agreed to pay workers $500,000 in back wages for unfair legal practices.

Those practices were certainly insidious: For almost four years, employees at Tower arrived at work then waited in a windowless room until their bosses decided there was enough business to let them clock in, according to a lawsuit filed in Superior Court by the City Attorney's Office in August 2011. The wait time allegedly ranged from four to six hours per week, per worker.

On some days, those workers clocked in to wash city-owned vehicles, since Tower Car Wash has a city contract, which netted the company more than $250,000 over the last three years.

So the city went after Tower with a lawsuit, and got the workers the money they earned.

And yet despite getting caught cheating immigrant workers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars of pay while simultaneously accepting tax-payer money, Tower Car Wash still has its contract with the city.

Why did the city not terminate the contract?

Because Tower was very cooperative during the investigation, Matt Dorsey, spokesman for the City Attorney's Office, told SF Weekly.

Tower's cooperation, Herrera explained in a statement, enabled "the parties to accurately calculate all unpaid wages and fully compensate workers." The company, the statement also noted, voluntarily changed its health benefits so that employees can now be reimbursed for IRS-qualified medical expenses.

"Though Tower Car Wash was wrong to require workers to wait for hours without pay, its owners deserve credit for promptly fixing their scheduling policies, and working cooperatively with us to fully and fairly compensate their employees," he said. "[T]here's a right way and a wrong way for employers to remedy their wrongdoing. Tower Car Wash did it the right way, and I applaud their owners and managers for taking responsibility. Based on the good faith and cooperation they've shown up to this point, I am now fully comfortable getting my car washed at Tower."

City officials have always been comfortable getting cars washed at Tower. Tower Car Wash, which is at Mission and South Van Ness, got $163,637 in tax-payer money in 2009-10, $59,106 in 2010-11, and $51,430 this past year. The unfair labor practices, once discovered by city officials, was a breach of contract.

According to the city's lawsuit, Tower bosses required workers to show up at a scheduled time, but wouldn't let them clock-in until there were enough dirty cars out front. Some days employees would go home without a single minute of earnings.

The lawsuit, jointly filed by Herrera and La Raza Centro Legal, demanded $3 million in back pay. Since then, the city's investigation determined that today's $500,000 settlement covers all lost wages, said Dorsey.

Tower will pay the workers -- around 60 current and 40 former employees -- over the next two and a half years: $100,000 total up front, $12,000 a month for 30 months, and $110,000 on the back end.

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