People are always asking L.A. Co-op Lab for examples of worker cooperatives in L.A., and I’m happy to say that the list is growing and this blog series will introduce you to all of them, one cooperative at a time.
While there has been much attention to the “Great Resignation” and the fact that many employers are finding it difficult to hire, the fact remains that many working-class people of color are either unemployed, underemployed and/or are victims of wage theft – costing L.A. workers $1.4 billion each year –and unconscionably low wages.
L.A.’s Worker Centers were established to support the efforts of low-wage workers, immigrant and refugee workers, and workers of color in Los Angeles by engaging in campaigns against wage theft and other forms of exploitation, enforcement of labor standards, and other strategies to change the terms of engagement between low-wage industries and their workers. More recently, worker center members have begun to generate their own versions of what that might look like by forming worker cooperatives — businesses that are democratically owned and operated by the people who work there — to prove that decent wages and working conditions are more than possible in their industries.
One great example is the Clean Carwash Worker Center where CleanWash Mobile, LLC, a worker cooperative was born out of an organic process fueled by car wash workers themselves and which is celebrating their launch and first contract with another great L.A. community institution, St. John’s Community Health.
Clean Carwash Executive Director, Flor Rodriguez explains how workers typically experience the industry and how a group of workers arrived at the cooperative solution:
“Car wash workers at the center were tired of the fact that no matter how many years they worked at a car wash, they couldn’t move up the ladder. At car washes, new workers usually get placed in soaping or vacuuming the vehicles. It takes years before you can dry cars and earn tips, or move up to more hours and larger tips as a detailer. But it’s really hard to get those positions.
However, there were experienced detailers within the worker center’s membership who agreed to develop a training for others, which quickly became a program. From each cohort of 10, at least 2 would move up to better jobs and wages. The program evolved into a gold standard popular education program that could serve workers at all levels of education. Graduates would then become trainers themselves.
Gradually, these skilled trainers started saying “all we’re missing is to own our own car wash!” and began to explore different ownership models, learned about co-ops, got their first grant and registered CleanWash as a co-op.”
The cooperative specializes in services to fleets, biodegradable safe products, and reduced use of water. Right now there are five worker-owners of CleanWash, including one of the founders of the detail training. But Flor and the worker center are thinking big –– that the success of this pilot can seed replication car wash cooperatives across the city –– and that could make a big difference in where the money goes in the car wash industry.
You may join the CleanWash launch celebration at 9 AM Thursday, May 26th at St. John’s Health Center located at 618 S. Avalon Blvd, L.A. 90003. Even better, if your company or organization has a fleet that could use dependable, skilled car wash services, contact: Ashley Reyes at firstname.lastname@example.org.