Supporters of a campaign to unionize car-wash workers got a rude surprise this morning. A
billboard they'd paid to put up over Vermont Hand Wash in Los Feliz had been ordered taken down by CBS Outdoor, the billboard's owners. According to Chloe Osmer of the CLEAN Carwash Campaign, the sign read, "Support Car Wash Workers -- Wash Away Injustice." The site was ideal -- the billboard towers directly above Vermont Hand Wash and would've made a photogenic backdrop for an organizing rally to be held below. But that was the problem -- the billboard and its tower sit on Vermont Hand Wash's property and the business' owner has veto power over the billboards' messages.
Instead, today's rally faced a blank-white space on the billboard where the union message had been until this morning. (Swing Media, the company Osmer claims designed the billboard, declined comment when contacted. CBS Outdoor did not return calls.) The gathering of union activists and car wash worker supporters had originally been planned in front of Vermont Hand Wash's Prospect Street entrance, but rally organizers say the city denied them a permit on the grounds they would block the business' customers. Instead, the 11 a.m. rally was held on a blocked-off section of Sunset Boulevard at Vermont Avenue.
The car wash workers are being organized by the United Steelworkers,
which, like many
formerly industrial unions, has turned to organizing
workers in the service sector. The drive has been underway for two
years and, despite the enormous obstacles inherent in any effort to
unionize casual, immigrant workers, many resources are being swung
behind the campaign. Between 150 and 200 supporters stood under a
sweltering sun to hear a list of speakers that included Congresswoman
Judy Chu, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz and AFL-CIO president John
Sweeney, 75, who is due to retire next month at his organization's
convention. The old labor lion addressed the crowd from a flatbed stage
truck with his coat off, revealing a crisp blue shirt and red and blue
Pedro Guzman, a former Vermont Hand Wash "washero," described in Spanish
how employees there work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. but only get paid for
five hours. As Guzman spoke, current employees across the street leaned
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against the steel bars fencing them in and razzed their ex-colleague.
They had plenty of time to kill -- although customer-appreciation-day
Wednesdays usually find Vermont Hand Wash packed with cars, the business was noticeably down.