Juan Hernandez, Carwash Worker

Bosses come and go. In his 10 years at the same carwash, Juan Hernandez has had five different employers. Some, like his current boss, are better than others. “He follows the law and wants to work by CLEAN Carwash’s standards,” Juan says.

The CLEAN Carwash Campaign—an initiative of the Fed, member unions, nonprofit foundations, community leaders, and clergy—has made headlines by organizing some of LA’s most vulnerable workers and setting basic standards for the city’s carwashes.

In an industry notorious for exploiting workers, cleaners like Juan joined together to defend their rights. “When I started working in the carwash industry in 2006, it was a time when workers were paid no more than $50 a day,” he says. “For three or four years, I constantly experienced wage theft.”

Employers steal an estimated $26 million a week from LA workers, which is why local enforcement was such an important part of the Fed’s Raise The Wage campaign. Juan joined the worker-led movement to secure a $15 minimum wage with sick days and enforcement, building on the success of the CLEAN Carwash Campaign. He spoke at hearings and met personally with city councilmembers to share his struggles. “The salary was very low at $9, and we can’t make it with kids and rent,” he explains. Juan says the lawmakers took his testimony seriously. “Now the wage is going up starting July 1st, you just need to call to take a sick day, and I am paid for all the hours that I work.”

Juan and his fellow workers have accomplished much. “Laws and institutions have changed and cleaners are more respected,” he acknowledges. “But there are still employers who pay no more than $50 or $60 in cash a day.” His work—and ours—is not done.