Around the Industry - November 2012
Report attacks Chicago’s carwashes
CHICAGO — A report released here claims that there are a number of negative labor conditions and abuses in the city’s carwashes. The report, titled “Clean Cars, Dirty Business,” was issued by the Labor Education Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and it was partially funded by the United Steelworkers.
According to the report, a majority of carwash workers in Chicago earn less than the state’s hourly minimum wage of $8.25, and they work more than 40 hours every week. The study also noted that most employees do not receive safety equipment while on the job.
Arise Chicago, an interfaith workers’ rights group, also launched a campaign to improve the work conditions for the city’s carwash workers. This organization was inspired by the workers in New York and Los Angeles that have unionized or boycotted work to fight for health and safety rights.
International Carwash Association (ICA) CEO Eric Wulf said he had not read the report. He noted that ICA’s members treat their employees fairly but also said not all carwashes are part of the association. He explained that work conditions vary in nearly every industry, including carwashing. “It’s like restaurants,” Wulf told the Chicago Tribune. “There are lots of wonderful restaurants, and then there are some you might not go to, some that might not follow every rule.”
New operator inherits back wages, penalties
LOS ANGELES — After an operator leased an empty carwash here and opened Sunset Car Wash, it ended up the new wash was saddled with the debts owed by the previous business.
The previous wash, Auto Spa Express, failed to pay its employees or its mortgage. The mortgage holder foreclosed, took possession of the wash and leased it to a new company.
Though it is now a different business, the California Office of the Attorney General sued Sunset Car Wash. The court ruled that Sunset must pay the back wages and penalties owed to Auto Spa’s former employees.
The ruling was a result of a quirk in the state labor code, which says “any employee that is engaged in carwashing and polishing” is a “successor in interest” liable for the unpaid wages of the previous employer. Though Sunset Car Wash argued that it had no knowledge of the unpaid wages, the court was not persuaded and ruled it liable for the back wages.
Mister Car Wash adds eight more locations
TUCSON, AZ — Mister Car Wash announced here the acquisition of eight Tidal Wave Auto Spa carwashes in the Atlanta, Charlotte and Oxford, AL markets. The transaction was completed in early September, and it made Mister Car Wash the largest wash chain in the U.S. with 90 locations. Mister also operates 30 express lubes in 12 states.
“We are thrilled to increase our overall number of express locations in these new metro areas,” Ron Peterson, chief executive officer of Mister Car Wash, said in a press release. “And we’re continuously seeking additional multi-unit conveyor carwash opportunities to help fuel our growth.” Mister Car Wash is an operating company of ONCAP.
Water restrictions may shut down detailers
SAN ANGELO, TX — Two detailers had different plans if the city instituted Drought Level 3 water restrictions here in early October. The city announced that water conditions met the criteria to move into Drought Level 3 water conservation in mid September. The announcement meant the city only had enough stored water to last a year. Still, the city decided to not implement the regulations until Oct. 2, and the buffer time may have allowed the city council to consider an amendment to allow carwashes to remain in business.
Jose Nunez, owner of Best Shine Mobile Wash and Detail, said his backup plan was to go waterless. Though other washes asked the city council to pass an exemption if the Drought Level 3 was enforced, Best Shine planned to use waterless wash products.
Jerry Gonzalez, a worker at Tony’s Detail Shop, hoped the city would regulate businesses based on their water meter readings. The shop’s water bill was generally around $62 per month because they only wash about four cars a day. A shampoo uses about a gallon of water and most of the detailing is done by hand.
Group calls for hand washing ban
LONDON — The Retail Motor Industry Federation, a group that represents independent petrol stations in England, called on the government there to ban drivers from washing their cars in the street. The federation also called for a ban on unregulated “pop up” hand carwash businesses that often use illegal immigrant labor. Both are seen as threats to the automatic carwashes that are lucrative profit centers for petrol stations in England.
“My members are already under threat because of falling profits they make on selling fuel and now struggling because their carwash businesses, which were a good earner, are being decimated,” Brian Madderson with the federation told The Telegraph. “Our carwashes have to be inspected by the Environment Agency and we have to have a method of catching the oil, grease and dirty water so it doesn’t go into the main drainage system.”
In Germany, strict laws are enforced that ban hand washing due to the damage that it can cause when cleaning chemicals enter the water supply.
High liquid waste disposal fees hurt wash owners
CHADRON, NE — The high cost of carwash sludge disposal is causing trouble for business owners here. Lisa Westerbuhr of Bruns Laundry and Carwash said that the $75 per 1,000 gallon charge has had a negative impact on businesses that produce liquid waste.
Westerbuhr explained that other cities and townships charge a far smaller fee for the disposal of liquid wastes. She pointed out that the city of Gering only charges $17.50 per 1,000 gallons for residents. Westerbuhr added that she already pays a large sewage fee, so the additional liquid waste fees make it seem like her business is getting hit coming and going.
The city incurs costs for treating both septic wastes and carwash sludge, Public Works Superintendent Milo Rust said. Charging different amounts for septic or sludge disposal might be valid, but the fee for septic disposal should reflect the cost of treatment.
City council members were sympathetic with Westerbuhr’s financial situation and asked Rust to investigate the actual cost of liquid waste disposal in Chadron and report back. A fee ordinance in Chadron was passed, but the city council left room for an amendment to the fee once Rust finished his report.
Wash owner claims city council turned against him
BRIGHTON, ENGLAND — Robbie Raggio, a carwash entrepreneur, said the city council is victimizing him because his family spoke out over car parking charges. Raggio lost an appeal to a city order telling him to close a small car repair workshop he operates in nearby Hove.
Raggio is best known for running a carwash at a railway station, and he opened the car repair business about three years ago. There was existing permission for him to use the site for valeting cars, but the council issued an order last year telling him to stop an on-site repair business.
The city’s planning regulations classified the valet business as “light industrial” while car repair is considered “general industrial.” The difference is that repairs would involve noisy work and machinery. Raggio noted that there are three mechanics who work at the site, and they had not received any complaints about noise.
Wash holds crowded fundraiser for humane society
EXETER, PA — Lines of cars piled up at Scott’s Car Wash and Lube Facilities in Exeter Township and Kenhorst in September to support the Humane Society of Berks County, a local animal protection group.
Motorists were able to have their car washed for the discounted price of $8, all of which was donated to the animal society. Owner Scott Egolf said the weather was perfect and the turnout was great. Over $20,000 has been raised since the annual “Wash for the Animals” fundraiser began seven years ago.
In addition to a discounted wash, motorists received a free t-shirt, goodie bags and a chance to win free carwashes for an entire year. Moe’s Southwest Grill provided free burritos, and Dairy Queen gave away free ice cream.
Driver rips entire carwash out of building
LYNCHBURG, VA — A driver who completely destroyed a carwash system here in September came forward and confessed to the damage. The owner of Quik-E Mart gas station said a driver from South Carolina saw a new report about the carwash’s damage, and he confessed to his boss.
The company the driver worked for, Dean Excavating and Grading, promised to cover all the expenses, and the employee drove up from South Carolina to apologize in person. As a result, the owner of the c-store carwash decided to drop all criminal charges.
The driver drove a large work truck with a trailer attached into the carwash at Quik-E Mart. As the truck drove through the wash, it ripped the entire carwash system out of the building. The store manager working at the time said the driver backed up, pulled the carwash system off of the truck, threw it aside and drove away. Damages were estimated at $50,000, and the incident was caught on the store’s surveillance cameras.
Chain trading carwashes for donations
SACRAMENTO, CA — Seven Quick Quack Car Wash locations here gave away free carwashes on Sept. 26 for any donation made to the Donut Dash, a non-profit charity that raises money for the Child Life Program at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento.
Donations made helped children and their families cope with medical experiences by providing normal childhood activities, promoting development, teaching children about their illnesses and treatments and supporting families emotionally. The special one-day fundraiser gave customers that made a donation to the charity a free basic wash.
City threatens carwash’s business license
QUINCY, MA — After a carwash manager would not respond to any communications, the Board of License Commissioners hosted a hearing to potentially revoke his business license. The coin-operated wash managed by Anthony Ruscito had been open for 40 years, and in 2009, noise complaints caused the wash’s hours to be scaled back to 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Even so, neighbors said the noise had become near constant once again. The machinery beeped, the dryers ran late into the night and leaf blowing began at 6 a.m. Neighbors of the wash contacted the Board of License Commissioners, and though Ruscito was sent many letters, he did not attend the business license hearing or respond to phone calls. Ruscito also failed to attend meetings with the neighbors about the noise.
Ward 4 Councilor Brian Palmucci asked for a temporary suspension of the wash’s business license, but Ruscito did make an appearance at the city clerk’s office the next day. Ruscito agreed to attend a follow-up hearing on Sept. 11, and the suspension was stayed.