Car wash worker and MRNY member Miguel Portillo testifies on environmentally hazardous practices in the car wash industry, with Council Members Mark-Viverito and Rodriguez. (Photo: William Alatriste)
Throughout New York City, car wash workers face exploitation on the job, including wage theft, poverty wages, unpredictable scheduling, and other abusive labor practices that are ubiquitous in this industry.
And last week, following a press conference headlined by Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito and car wash workers, the City Council heard testimony from environmental experts, MRNY attorneys and car wash workers on ways the car wash industry may be harming both consumers and our city’s environment, and through possibly illegal practices.
The hearing, held by the Council’s Committee on Civil Service and Labor, was focused on the need for the Car Wash Accountability Act, of which Council Member Mark-Viverito is the lead sponsor.
Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change, with the support of the RWDSU, released a report in which workers testified that some car washes allow unfiltered wastewater to enter the city’s sewer system. Some may even be dumping hazardous sludge that accumulates under the car wash into the sewer or trash — sludge that could cause major harm to our city’s environment and waste infrastructure.
We’ve also been monitoring review websites that show a host of serious, unresolved consumer complaints, such as a car wash refusing to compensate car owners after their vehicle was damaged at the car wash.
This type of mistreatment is unacceptable. Just like it is unacceptable for car washes to steal workers’ tips and overtime pay.
For two years, Make the Road and our partners in the WASH New York campaign have stood with these workers to organize for dignity, safety and livable wages. And we’ve already helped exploited workers to win six union contracts.
The City has very little oversight over the 200 car washes in business here, which collectively employ over 5,000 workers. But this soon may change if the City Council votes to pass the Car Wash Accountability Act, legislation based on a model written by Make the Road’s legal team. This legislation would require car washes to get a license in order to do business in this city — a requirement that dozens of businesses, like auto towing companies, car garages, and laundries, already have to follow.
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