Car Wash Owners Charged With Labor Violations

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Los Angeles—Two brothers have been charged by the Los Angeles County City Attorney’s office for multiple labor violations at the four LA-area car wash facilities they own.

The brothers and their supporters, however, claim that the charges are racially and politically motivated. Benny Pirian, 38, and Nissan Pirian, 31, are Iranian Jews. Other local Iranian Jews say that the outgoing City Attorney, Rocky Delgadillo, wants to make an example of business owners who will not acquiesce to the unions, in order to leave office with the favorable opinion of labor leaders.

The brothers are accused of failing to pay their workers minimum wage and overtime; preventing their workers from taking breaks, and forcing the workers to purchase equipment and uniforms from them. The 176-count criminal complaint also alleges that the pair intimidated and harassed those employees who attempted to unionize the car washes, and that a manager at one of the stores actually wielded a club and a machete in efforts to stop union organizers.

Additionally, the Pirian brothers did not provide medical attention to their workers, in cases of puncture wounds, deep lacerations and acid burns, claims the City Attorney’s office.

Despite these allegations, members of the local Iranian Jewish community are standing behind the Pirians. Car wash businesses are popular in that community, as well as with Muslims, in Los Angeles because they are profitable and employ unskilled workers. Since many of the washes hire illegal or undocumented workers in order to save costs, other legitimate owners are forced to cut corners as well in order to remain profitable.

The Pirians, many believe, were singled out unfairly because of their resistance to union activity. Said Mark Werksman, attorney for the brothers, “The union has launched a campaign of harassment and frivolous litigation to bludgeon the Pirians into submission, and this prosecution is their latest weapon.”

In May 2008, a Jewish nonprofit law firm brought a civil class-action suit against the Pirians’ car wash businesses on behalf of 250 workers, seeking unpaid wages and compensation for denial of rest and meal breaks while on the job. The same firm had represented another employee, in 2005, who claimed that the Pirians did not pay him minimum wage or overtime. That case was settled out of court.

Prosecutors deny that the charges in this case are politically motivated.

California State Labor Codes mandate that the immigration status of an employee does not affect his or her employer’s duty to provide fair labor practices, including the payment of minimum wage and overtime as well as providing for meal breaks and rest breaks.

 

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