LOS ANGELES — According to the Los Angeles Times, Beverly Hills auto dealership mogul Hooman Nissani has been ordered to pay $2.4 million in back wages and penalties in the largest wage-theft case the state of California has ever brought against a carwash company.
The California labor commissioner said Nissani’s Playa Vista Car Wash in Culver City paid workers less than the legal minimum wage; denied overtime pay, despite employees working up to 10 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week; and falsified time cards, the article continued.
Nissani and Keyvan Shamshoni, the carwash’s general manager, also required the employees to report to an alley near the carwash half an hour before opening, and those not selected to work were sent home without being paid for the waiting time, the article noted.
Nissani, Shamshoni and the carwash company are jointly liable and must pay over $1.8 million in back wages, $516,000 in civil penalties and $19,000 that were deducted from workers’ paychecks for towels used at the carwash, the article added.
“Individuals acting on behalf of an employer to steal workers’ wages cannot hide behind corporate entities to avoid personal liability, all the while profiting at the expense of honest businesses that play by the rules,” California Labor Secretary Julie Su said.
According to the labor commissioner’s office, carwashes, along with construction firms, farms, restaurants, residential care homes and janitorial businesses, are among the types of companies in the state with the most flagrant violations of wage laws because they are all sectors with a heavy immigrant makeup, the article noted.
“There is often a language barrier,” said Daniel Yu, assistant chief of the commissioner’s enforcement bureau. “The workers fear losing their jobs if they file complaints. Bosses commonly threaten immigration retaliation if they don’t have [legal] status. But California laws protect all workers regardless of immigration status.”
Just last month, The Car Spa in Newport Beach and owner Colin Berger were accused of cheating 23 workers out of minimum wages, overtime, and meal and rest breaks over three years; they were ordered to pay fines and back wages totaling $1.1 million.
“We have definitely appealed the citation and are waiting for a hearing,” Berger said in an email. “We deny that we cheated anyone.”
Rola Alquza, owner of Commonwealth Car Wash in Fullerton, was also accused of denying workers minimum wages, overtime and meal breaks, and he was ordered to pay fines and back wages totaling $1.5 million, the article noted; he too has appealed.
Last year, Vahid David Delrahim, who owns some 100 carwashes and gas stations throughout Southern California, had to pay $4.2 million in a wage-theft case, the article reported.
The Community Labor Environmental Action Network (CLEAN), a small, Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps carwash workers, brought the Playa Vista case to the labor commissioner’s attention, introducing the Spanish-speaking workers to investigators, the article stated.
Cases such as the Playa Vista Car Wash are “not uncommon,” said Andrea Gonzalez, Clean’s lead organizer. “Employers cheat workers out of their pay in many ways, whether by paying them low, daily rates or paying them by piece rates. In some cases, they are only paid through customer tips. We are holding them accountable.”
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