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Carwasheros Sue Park Slope Car Wash
October 29, 2014

Car wash workers have filed a federal suit against the owners of Vegas Auto Spa in Park Slope, alleging wage theft their lawyers say could ultimately exceed $1 million in non-payment of overtime and other violations, including damages.

It is outrageous that some car wash owners have cheated their workers out of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars over the years,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum yesterday at a rally in front of the car wash, noting that one major car wash owner has agreed to settlements totaling more than $7 million. “I applaud these brave carwasheros for standing up for their rights and saying ‘We are not going to take this anymore.

In the complaint, filed late Tuesday in Brooklyn Federal Court, lawyers for the workers said car wash owner Marat Leshehinsky failed to pay minimum wage, time and a half for overtime and took improper deductions from the employees’ checks. The complaint alleged that some of the carwasheros worked more than 90 hours a week.

Attorneys preliminarily estimate the eight workers involved in the suit are owed in excess of $600,000 in wages and damages due to non-payment of overtime and other violations; the employer’s total liability could ultimately exceed $1 million.

Workers were Joined yesterday by City Council members Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca, RWDSU activists, and community groups New York Communities for Change and Make the Road New York.

Also on hand to support the workers were Pastors Samuel Cruz and Vanessa Cardinale of Trinity Lutheran Church, Brooklyn; Pastor Ruth Salgado of Manatial de Vida, Brooklyn;  Reverend Ray Rivera of the Latino Pastoral Action Center in The Bronx and Pastor Carlos Zuniga of the New Life Christian Fellowship in Queens.

We are carwasheros united and fighting for our rights, and for our future,” said Rogelio Lara, of Brooklyn, who has worked at the car wash for nine years. “We are fighting not just for us, but for all those who are coming after us, so they don’t go through what we’ve suffered through.  We want to have better protections, job security, pay for the overtime we worked and we want to have some vacation days. It’s not fair that our boss goes on vacation three times a year with our money.  We demand an end to all this injustice and labor exploitation!

The workers also report they are forced to lie about the amount of hours they work and to exaggerate the amount of tips they receive.

We are suing the boss because he makes us sign papers that aren’t true,” said Angel Rebolledo of Brooklyn, who has worked at Vegas Auto Spa for two years.  “He says that he pays his workers overtime, but he doesn’t.  He claims that we make more tips than what we actually do.  He has threatened to fire us if we don’t sign and this is not fair.  All the abuse and exploitation has to stop: This is why we are protesting.

Advocates say these allegations demonstrate the need for immediate passage of the Car Wash Accountability Act, which would require owners to be licensed and to put up a surety bond to ensure that money is available to pay substantiated claims. The legislation is pending in the City Council.

Bronx Carwash Workers Vow to Unionize
July 24, 2014

New York Daily News columnist Albor Ruiz reports on workers at K&P car wash in the Bronx, who are standing up to intimidation in their drive to join the RWDSU.

Read it here

Hearings Focus on Necessity of Car Wash Industry Oversight
June 19, 2014

Car wash workers - members of the RWDSU - packed City Hall in New York City today to support the Car Wash Accountability Act. 

Car wash workers and their supporters and advocates today urged a City Council Committee to approve the Car Wash Accountability Act which would require car washes to be licensed and codify measures to ensure transparency of ownership in New York City. The bill also contains measures that would enable greater enforcement of wage-theft laws and environmental regulations and impose meaningful penalties for non-compliance.

“This legislation will go a long way toward regulating an industry that has almost no city oversight and has a history of committing millions of dollars in wage theft,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum.

“In the past, one owner alone has agreed to pay more than $7 million in back pay and penalties,” he added. “And these are just the instances we know about. Because of the lack of licensing requirements and ownership transparency, who knows how many more instances exist.”  

Advocates told the Council’s Committee on Civil Service and Labor that the bill, sponsored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, would extend licensing requirements of the Department of Consumer Affairs to cover car washes. The agency already oversees 78,000 businesses in 55 industries, including tow truck companies, garages, parking lots and laundries.

Magdalena Barbosa, supervising employment attorney for Make the Road New York, which, along with New York Communities for Change and the RWDSU, has been working on behalf of the workers for more than two years, said the industry is rife with examples of long hours, no overtime pay, tip-stealing, unsafe conditions and questionable environmental practices.

“Violations of the minimum wage and overtime laws are par for the course for many immigrant workers,” Barbosa testified. “But the egregiousness and pervasiveness of wage theft – and repeat violations of wage theft – in this industry has been shocking.”

Several workers testified about having to handle dangerous compounds and detailed questionable practices like allowing unfiltered waste water to enter the city’s sewer system and dumping potentially hazardous sludge into the sewer or trash.

“At one car wash where I worked … the other workers and I were asked to clean out the filter and put all of the sludge into the sewer,” said ‘carwashero’ Juan Carlos Rivera (above left), who has worked at several establishments over the past eight years. “But they told us ‘nobody can see you do this."

Seven car washes have been organized and have won union contracts since the Wash NY campaign was launched more than two years ago to clean up the industry and improve conditions for the mostly immigrant workers who make minimum wage or less and work with potentially hazardous chemicals.

Prior to the hearing, City Council members Antonio Reynoso, Ritchie Torres and Carlos Menchacha, and dozens of car wash workers and supporters held a press briefing on the steps of City Hall to urge the committee to approve the Car Wash Accountability Act and send it to the full Council for a vote.

Public Advocate Scott Stringer sent a statement in support of the legislation, “which will ensure that employees at over 200 car washes throughout the five boroughs are protected from workplace hazards and are paid the full value of their work.”