Employees are required to endure hours of unpaid waiting during scheduled shifts-losing wages, overtime pay, other labor rights
SAN FRANCISCO (Aug. 17, 2011) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera and lawyers from La Raza Centro Legal today filed suit against the owners and operators of Tower Car Wash for longstanding business practices that denied full compensation to their employees in violation of state and local wage and hour laws, and California’s Unfair Competition Law. The litigation filed in San Francisco Superior Court this morning seeks to recover compensation, penalties and interest for the cheated workers, which could exceed $3 million. Beverly Hills, Calif.-based owners Igor Paskhover and Vladimir and Lisa Syelsky, together with corporate executive Steve Matijevich, could additionally be liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil penalties, attorneys’ fees, and costs to San Francisco taxpayers.
According to the civil complaint jointly filed by the City and La Raza, operators of the car wash at the corner of Mission Street and South Van Ness Avenue require their employees to arrive at prescheduled times and wait in a small, windowless room while management decides whether the car wash is sufficiently busy to allow them to begin working. Only then are employees allowed to “clock in” to be paid for their work. Tower Car Wash does not compensate employees for waiting time — which typically averages at least four to six hours per week per worker — despite the company’s strict requirement that employees arrive at scheduled reporting times or face termination. During periods of poor weather, when business is slower, employees are usually made to wait for far longer periods, and are sometimes sent home with no earnings whatsoever. The car wash’s failure to fully compensate workers for their time in employment violates numerous local and state laws, including provisions intended to guarantee minimum wages, overtime pay, adequate and accurate payroll records, and payment of wages owed upon discharge.
“Tower Car Wash demonstrates a clever but no less illegal way of robbing their employees of wages,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera. “Forcing workers to endure hours of unpaid waiting before being allowed to work for minimum wage violates the law, and exploits the working men and women San Francisco needs to protect. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve as co-counsel on this important case with Kate Hegé and her colleagues at La Raza Centro Legal, which has been instrumental for its community outreach to develop this litigation. I am also appreciative, as always, for the efforts of the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement for their investigation, financial auditing and excellent work. Supervisor David Campos deserves enormous credit for his longstanding leadership on this issue at the Board of Supervisors. Perhaps most important, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the Tower Car Wash employees whose courage is enabling us to challenge this illegal and unfair business practice.”
“What you see here today is a powerful alliance in the struggle for wage justice — the City of San Francisco and its workers,” said Kate Hegé of La Raza Centro Legal. “On the one hand, Latino immigrant carwash workers are standing up for basic labor standards, casting off the misconception that they are exploitable labor. And on the other, City Attorney Dennis Herrera and the Office of Labor Standard Enforcement, have joined the workers and thrown down the gauntlet against wage theft. But none of us could have done this alone. This case was possible only because of the extraordinary courage of workers whose sense of dignity transcended threatened retaliation. And, these workers needed the City’s support against an employer who has willfully continued to break the law for years, despite repeated worker complaints.”
“Wage theft like the kind uncovered at Tower Car Wash disproportionately victimizes the lowest wage workers, devastating their ability to make a living and survive in these tough economic times,” said Supervisor David Campos. “We cannot allow any worker in San Francisco to be exploited, and fighting wage theft is essential to protect responsible business owners who are also victimized by unlawful competition. I am committed to doing everything I can in the legislative arena to improve San Francisco’s ability to enforce our wage laws in an effective and timely manner. I commend City Attorney Dennis Herrera, La Raza Centro Legal, the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, and, especially, the workers of Tower Car Wash for this important civil action today.”
“Workers must be paid at least minimum wage for every hour that they’re required to be at work, but Tower Car Wash workers were systematically forced to wait in a small, windowless room while managers decided whether or when they could clock in,” said Donna Levitt, division manager of the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. “OLSE is here to vigorously investigate and enforce our City’s minimum wage law and create a level playing field for law abiding businesses. I commend City Attorney Herrera and La Raza Centro Legal for bringing this important case. And I applaud Supervisor David Campos for his leadership to enhance our ability to protect the working men and women of San Francisco.”
In November 2003, San Francisco voters passed the Minimum Wage Ordinance (S.F. Admin. Code, Ch. 12R) to provide for annual rate adjustments based on the previous year’s Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners in the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose metropolitan area. The current MWO Wage Rate for 2011 is $9.92 per hour. For more information about San Francisco’s Minimum Wage Ordinance, members of the public may call the City’s multi-lingual hotline at (415) 554-6292, or email MWO@sfgov.org. Wage theft victims may also seek confidential assistance from La Raza Centro Legal at (415) 575-3500.
The case is: City and County of San Francisco v. Vladigor Investments, Inc., dba Tower Car Wash et al., San Francisco Superior Court, filed Aug. 17, 2011.
PDF of the Tower Car Wash wage theft case presskit (Aug. 17, 2011)