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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.”


Contract Victory for Five-Star Car Wash Workers
May 12, 2014

Workers at Five-Star car wash in Queens, New York, have achieved a victory in a fight that began late last year when they voted to join the RWDSU. After being forced to walk off the job numerous times due to management’s anti-worker tactics, the car wash workers have won their first union contract.

The three-year contract includes wage increases and protects workers from discrimination.  The pact requires that a shop steward supervise the counting and distribution of tips, and workers will have a schedule posted each week, with hours and overtime distributed fairly and equally among the workers. Access to overtime will be protected.

Mayor, Elected Officials, Car Wash Workers Celebrate Victories
April 17, 2014

In New York City last night, top elected officials including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito joined over 200 ‘carwasheros’ and their advocates  to pledge support for their fight for economic justice and the right to unionize.

De Blasio spoke at the second annual Car Wash Workers Assembly at Guttman College in Manhattan along with Schneiderman, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Speaker Mark-Viverito, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum and Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez.

“The struggle of New York’s car wash workers to organize and improve conditions in their industry is an inspiration for all low wage workers in this city,” Appelbaum said.  “The carwasheros are proving that when working people join together in collective action – regardless of immigration status – they can win.  The RWDSU is proud to be part of this campaign.”

In the two years since the Wash NY campaign began with the support of New York Communities for Change, Make the Road New York and the RWDSU, workers at eight car washes have voted to unionize and have won contracts at six locations.  The three-year contracts include wage increases, job security, fair scheduling, protection of their tips, personal days and paid holiday bonuses for Christmas and New Year’s Day. Workers have been motivated to organize by unfair labor practices and bad working conditions, which have been found at car washes across the city, including below-minimum-wage pay and wage theft.   

Last month, the campaign achieved another victory for workers with a $3.9 million settlement between Attorney General Schneiderman and car wash owner John Lage over unpaid wages underpayments of state unemployment and workers compensation on his workers’ behalf. $2.2 million will be divided amongst car wash workers whose wages were stolen.

"This victory is even bigger because it says in this city, in this state, that workers cannot be exploited, workers will not be exploited. We will not let it happen," Mayor de Blasio said.

He cast the effort as part of his own agenda to combat inequality.

"This is part of a bigger fight," he said. "This is the progressive city that we will built together, and it will be my honor to fight shoulder to shoulder with you - many, many victories ahead."

“When car wash workers stand up for their rights, they need to know that state and city leaders will stand behind them. For two years, WASH NY has fought for workers whose rights have been threatened and wages underpaid. Today, standing together with New York’s leaders, I’m reiterating our support and sending a strong message that this campaign is far from over,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “My office will continue to fight to ensure that car washes clean up their acts to comply with the law and treat workers with the respect they deserve.”

The campaign has won successful strikes at the Sunny Day Car Wash in the Bronx, and Jomar and Off-Broadway car washes in Queens, saved the jobs of workers at the Soho Car Wash, secured six union contracts for workers, and brought about significant change in how workers are treated, even at carwashes the union hasn’t yet organized.  
“We are here at our assembly today because united we are stronger,” said Ernesto Salazar, an El Salvador native who works at Webster Car Wash in the Bronx. “We are here with the most powerful people in New York City to ask them to continue to support us.  And to show the bad bosses that we are not alone and we will win!”

Another worker, Miguel Portillo, who works at Jomar Car Wash in the Bronx, said: “This assembly is very important to us.  We want all carwasheros in New York City to come together and join our fight.  When we have every carwashero fighting, I know we can win.  We can win more than we can imagine.”

Organizers also spoke about the Car Wash Accountability Act, which Speaker Mark-Viverito has introduced in the City Council. It would require licensing, transparency and best-practice standards. Car washes would face stiff penalties for fraud, misrepresentation or other violations. Charitable groups and others that conduct car washing to raise money would be exempt.

"For too long, abusive labor practices have run rampant at car washes across the City," said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (above). "Carwash workers deserve fair treatment, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Council to pass newly introduced legislation that will bring much needed oversight and regulation to the city's car wash industry. Working together, we can take steps to prevent unethical and illegal business practices before they begin."

“Car wash employees in our city have an absolute right to safe and secure working conditions. Today, we stand together to address the exploitative practices that are an injustice to hard working New Yorkers everywhere. I am proud to work as a partner with Speaker Mark-Viverito, RWDSU, Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change to ensure the health and safety of our carwasheros,” said New York City Public Advocate Letitia James. 

“I’m proud to stand with the members of Wash New York in supporting the rights of workers to organize, speak out and secure decent health care. These are not luxuries to be enjoyed by a few. They are the foundations of our democracy—and it’s time for the car wash industry to treat its workers with dignity and respect,” NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer said.   

"I applaud these courageous 'carwasheros' who have been fighting for their rights," said Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.  "These 'carwasheros,' now members of RWDSU, understand the benefits of union organizing, and in standing together to collectively bargain for the wages and respect they deserve.  The New York City labor movement remains committed to supporting these and all workers, as they organize to help secure good, middle class jobs for the working men and women of our city."