Car wash employees are hard-working people trying to support themselves and build better lives for their families. At the bottom of the economic ladder, they find themselves in a situation that many describe as helpless, working a low-paying, hazardous job with no respect or dignity. Besides the low pay, workers are often docked pay if cars are damaged, regardless of who is at fault, and poor treatment is rampant.
“Sometimes we don’t make tip money all week. It can be held back by management if a carpet gets stained,” said Heriberto Hernandez.
Added Carlos Garica, “If cars are damaged, we have to pay for it out of our tips. This can be very expensive, as it costs up to $500 to replace a mirror. The owners don’t cover it, they are always looking to take it out of our paychecks.”
Tips can be withheld for alleged damage to customer cars, shared with or taken by managers, and inflated to cover the below minimum wage earnings received by many workers.
“All of the workers split the tips,” Garcia said, “and the manager is included in this split, even though he doesn’t do any work and gets paid much more than we do.”
Adan Nicolas, a car wash worker in Queens, reports that managers force employees to regularly inflate the value of their tips.
“Twice a week, every week, they make us sign a piece of paper that says we make $20 or $25 each day in tips, but we don’t always make that much. Sometimes we only make $5 or $10 dollars a day, and on rainy days, we’re sent home and make no tips at all,” Nicolas said.
Facing this kind of treatment creates an environment of hopelessness for car wash workers.
“I came to this ‘land of opportunity’ with so many hopes, but I have become disillusioned about being able to help my family,” a worker said. “The treatment we receive makes us feel powerless. They yell at us, they disrespect us, and they treat us as if we are not even human beings.”
It’s a sentiment shared by far too many workers in New York City’s car washes, and a situation that needs to be changed. The exploitation of car wash workers in the name of profits is a dirty business.