San Francisco’s Tower Car Wash To Pay $500,000 in Wage Theft Suit

San Francisco’s Tower Car Wash has agreed to reimburse its workers $500,000 to settle a wage theft suit, as reported last week in the San Francisco Chronicle. The car wash will also pay the City an additional $70,000 for attorneys’ costs and fees. The popular Mission Street car wash had been hit last August by the suit by the City and County of San Francisco after complaints by workers that they weren’t being fully paid for their hours of work. This case exposes the increasing problem of wage theft in San Francisco and across the nation, especially in these trying economic times.
The case in question, City and County of San Francisco v. Vladigor Investments, Inc., dba Tower Car Wash et al was filed last August by the City Attorney in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of almost 100 of the car wash’s current and former employees. The complaint alleged that Tower Car Wash had a pattern and practice of refusing to pay its workers for their hours at the workplace over a 4-year period. The City alleged that workers at the car wash were required to arrive to work at pre-scheduled times each day. When they arrived, they were placed into a separate room to wait until the car wash was busy. Once the car wash was busy, they were then allowed to clock in. For many workers, their waiting time topped 5 to 6 hours each week. This time was not paid, however, although the workers were required to be there on time or face termination.
The City Attorney set out that these practices violated both California and San Francisco labor laws because the workers should have been paid for the time they spent waiting. First, these practices violated the San Francisco Minimum Wage Ordinance because the time the workers spent waiting before they were allowed to clock in lowered their hourly rate to less than the minimum wage, in violation of the statute. The City also alleged that these practices violated California overtime pay provisions because oftentimes the time spent by the workers at the car wash exceeded 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week when the waiting time was included. As these hours were not calculated by Tower Car Wash, that often left workers working over 8 hours a week without being paid their required time and a half wage. The City also set out that Tower Car Wash violated state and local ordinances in their practice of sending workers home if the wash was not busy enough. Tower Car Wash would send workers back after they waited for up to 2 or 3 hours if the wash was not busy, not allowing them to clock in for any of their time waiting. This practice is in violation of the labor laws requiring payment for all hours worked. The City set out that Tower Car Wash also violated California and San Francisco labor requirements that companies pay any workers who report to work at least a half day’s pay even if they have to send them home.
San Francisco has commended Tower Car Wash for agreeing to settle the case quickly instead of dragging out the issue in litigation. But it is no surprise that Tower Car Wash agreed to settle this case; the City had sought over $3 million in back wages and penalties. $500,000 is a bargain for the company. Instead what should be applauded is San Francisco’s strong stance against the rise of wage theft in the region as shown by its aggressive prosecution of this case. Although wage theft continues to rise nationwide, at least in San Francisco there is hope that at least with the City and County’s help there might be an end in sight.

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