A leading Latino legal civil rights organization has filed a class action lawsuit against the owners of two car washes in Santa Monica and Venice, alleging that workers have been deprived of pay and meal breaks.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court May 21 on behalf of four workers at Santa Monica Car Wash and Detailing and Millenium Car Wash in Venice as well as Bumble Bee Car Wash in Lakewood.

According to the complaint, the employees, who call themselves “carwasheros,” allege that they are often forced to work “off the clock” without overtime pay, and without rest or meal breaks, among other violations. The plaintiffs say they are seeking fair wages and full compensation for time worked.

In filing the complaint, MALDEF seeks a court order that would prohibit the three car washes from continuing to engage in alleged unlawful labor practices.

“Neither law nor moral principle permits any employer to exploit vulnerable people who seek only to support themselves and their families through honest labor,” alleged Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.

“The imperative to act in support of the workers’ own righteous defense is reinforced by their labors to serve the needs of others – the clientele who unknowingly abet the unscrupulous car wash owners’ unlawful deeds of ongoing exploitation.”

The complaint charges that the management policies conducted at each car wash has resulted in thousands of hours of free labor. Employees were expected to report to work early, to work “off the clock,” and were only permitted to work “on the clock” when the employer felt there were enough customers to justify payment for work, according to the lawsuit.

The car wash owners also allegedly required employees to purchase their own materials for work, and intentionally provided employees with inaccurate work records in an effort to conceal unlawful labor practices, the lawsuit states.

“I am here today with workers, community and labor allies to send a message to owners to clean up their businesses, or the labor movement and community will find them; there will be consequences,” said Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.