Car wash workers and owners clashed Thursday over a bill to require the businesses to get licenses and prove they’re following labor and environmental laws.
Backers say it’s a necessary check after a number of car washes were caught paying less than minimum wage and violating other labor laws amid a unionization drive in the industry.
But owners complained its costly requirements would put law-abiding operators out of business.
“It is unfair to paint a broad brush and demonize an entire industry,” car wash owner Stephen Bernard said at a City Council hearing on the legislation. “The bill is so burdensome and costly that…it will create mass unemployment in our industry because car washes will simply shut down.”
He grumbled that “it saddens me and disturbs me” that only two Council members remained in the chamber by the time the owners got up to give their side.
The de Blasio administration came out in favor of the bill, which will require every car wash to get a license from the Department of Consumer Affairs in order to operate. “We believe that this licensing scheme is a step in the right direction to improving this industry for car wash customers, owners, and workers,” said DCA Commissioner Julie Menin.
DCA could deny a license, which would cost $550, to an operator they deemed to lack “good character, honesty, and integrity.”
Car wash owners would have to take out a bond for $300,000 to cover any judgments they failed to pay stemming from worker or customer complaints.
Owners particularly object to that provision, saying they don’t have enough net worth to get such bonds and can’t afford the $9000 to $15,000 annual cost.
The bill, sponsored by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, is a top priority of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is moving to unionize carwashes across the city.
Attorney general Eric Schneiderman struck a $3.4 million settlement with car wash kingpin John Lage earlier this year, saying his 21 businesses around the city underpaid workers.
Workers said they had suffered abuses at the hands of unscrupulous owners for years.
Refugio Denicia said he made as little as $4 an hour working at Five Star Car wash in Queens.
“We tried to reason with the owner to talk about the wages that were owed to us many times,” he said. “Wage theft will continue to be a rampant issue if we don’t start addressing this problem.”