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Know Your Rights
Source: Crain's New York Business
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Car wash workers pick new target

A car wash operator who three years ago paid $3.4 million to settle charges that it underpaid workers has become the top target of a campaign to improve working conditions in the industry.

Workers and organizers will zero in Friday on Lage Management Corp., the Pelham-based parent of about 20 car washes in the New York City area, to pressure owner John Lage to negotiate with them.

Workers at Lage-owned car washes say management routinely skirts minimum wage and overtime laws, even though the company agreed in a 2009 consent judgment with the federal government to not violate the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum-wage, overtime and recordkeeping requirements.

Workers have been threatened with reduction in hours at one car wash in Queens for speaking out, the organizers said.

“We’ve identified this guy as public enemy No. 1 in the car wash industry because he did what he did, signed [that] he’d never do this again, and it’s absolutely outrageous he’s up to the same old tricks,” said Jon Kest, executive director of New York Communities for Change.

Mr. Kest’s group is planning to rally Friday along with partners Make the Road New York and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union at a Lage car wash in East Harlem, where workers say they earn less than the minimum wage. They say they get as little as $5.25 an hour during weeks that stretch up to 72 hours. Gratuities, they say, rarely bring them up to the $7.25 minimum wage because tips are often shared with managers or taken to cover scratches to cars and other issues.

Edilberto Rojas-Rosas, a 25-year-old father of two, said he takes home $378 a week for a 72-hour week, not including tips, which range from $10 to $20 a day.

“They don’t pay the minimum wage,” he said, according to a statement from Communities for Change. “Conditions are really bad.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor said Lage agreed to make payments in installments and has been doing so. He said the agreement prohibits future violations, but that the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor has not found any subsequent ones.

Mr. Lage did not return a call seeking comment.

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