PHOENIX — The owner of three Tucson car washes is forking out nearly $300,000 in back pay to workers who were taken off the clock when there were no cars to wash.
Jesus Olivares, community outreach coordinator with the U.S. Department of Labor, said the employees were on the job nearly 40 hours each week, but they were paid for just 25 to 30 hours apiece.
The difference, he said, was time waiting for customers to arrive.
Olivares said it would have been one thing had the workers been allowed to go home during slack periods. But that, he said, was not the case.
“The employer was still controlling the time,” he said.
“The employees were not allowed to leave the establishment,” Olivares explained. “The employees were told, ‘You're going to wait here until more cars arrive and then we'll put you back on the clock.’”
Olivares said the company was subject to a routine review his agency does of places like car washes and other establishments with a large percentage of low-wage workers. The review — and the back wages — cover a two-year period beginning in August 2010.
He said the company has corrected its practices since it was informed for the problems by the Department of Labor.
“It looks like they're in compliance now,” Olivares said. “They've learned that this practice is not allowed under the (federal) Fair Labor Standards Act.”
The review also turned up three teens — one 14 and two age 15 — who were working at one of the sites more than eight hours a day. Olivares said that violates federal labor laws which limit anyone in that age group to just eight hours of work on non-school days, and less on days when school is in session.
That violation resulted in a separate $1,725 civil fine against the firm, above and beyond the back wages.
Olivares said the company already has paid $313,333 to the Department of Labor to be distributed to the workers. He said, though, about 200 of these employees have not yet been located, and added anyone who worked at any of the locations during the affected time period should contact either the Department of Labor of the Mexican consulate.
The inspection involves a single franchise operator who owns the Thornydale Octopus Car Wash, the 22nd Street Octopus Car Wash, and the Valencia Octopus Car Wash.