Who would have thought it just a few months ago. More and more car wash workers, among the citys most ignored and vulnerable laborers, finding the courage to take action against their abusive bosses.
For years, rogue owners could count on the silence of these workers fearful of losing their jobs. Not anymore. Fed up with being exploited, they have broken the silence time and time again in recent months.
The latest group to stand up for their rights was employed by Sunny Day Car Wash on 169 Lincoln Ave., near E. 135 St. in the Bronx. The workers, more than a dozen, struck the car wash after not being paid for two weeks. But the issue is not only the money; these workers are also struggling for a safer work environment and their right to join a union.
The story of these men is one of tremendous courage, said Tara Martin, an organizer for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. They had already decided not to take the abuse any longer when they approached us for help.
The business owner, Frank Roman, has been rapidly finding out how much things have changed. It s no longer that easy to get away with taking advantage of your hardworking, immigrant employees.
Last Sunday, the carwasheros, as they call themselves, refused to return to work until they were paid and the owner responded by firing them.
The boss, used to years of submissive behavior by workers, was probably caught by surprise by his employees forceful and risky action. On their own initiative, Sunny Day workers contacted WASH New York, a group that is spearheading a campaign to bring fair conditions to the car wash industry, where labor violations have been the norm for as far back as anybody can remember.
The group is a coalition of workers, community leaders, elected officials and union members organized by Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change, with the help of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union .
They heard about us from other workers, hes currently involved with the campaign and they have already scored some important victories. In September, Astoria Car Wash Hi-Tek Lube in Queens, became the first in the city to defy management and join the union. And last month, 28 workers at the Webster Car Wash in the Bronx, most of them Latino immigrants, voted overwhelmingly to join the RWDSU.
Last Tuesday, now with the support of WASH, it was Sunny Day workers more than a dozen of them who set up a picket line to demand their back pay, reinstatement of their jobs, and union recognition. That day they were given a check for one week s pay.
On Wednesday, an unhappy Roman filed legal papers in Bronx Supreme Court asking for a temporary restraining order to keep workers 50 feet from the car wash but, in a morale-boosting victory for the workers, the judge denied it.
Support for the workers struggle for fairness and dignity keeps growing. On Friday, union members, New York Communities for Change and Make the Road New York scheduled a press conference outside Sunny Day to support the workers.
State Sens. Gustavo Rivera and Jose Serrano were expected to participate.
We will support these tremendously courageous workers until their demands are met, Martin said.
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