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

City Council Cracks Down On Car Washes

Local lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday that would force the city’s 200 car-wash operators to obtain an annual license or pay fines of up to $15,000 a year.

To get a license from the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, operators would have to divulge details of company ownership, certify compliance with local, state and federal laws, and obtain a $300,000 bond to cover unpaid fines and penalties. A business could be denied a license based on past violations or unpaid taxes.

Consumer Affairs already licenses 55 industries in the city, ranging from Laundromats to locksmiths. The measure’s prime sponsor, City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, said her bill would ensure “that workers are protected from harm” and “consumers receive a car wash at a standard they can count on.”

The bill is the latest effort by unions and community groups to improve the conditions for approximately 5,000 car-wash workers in the city. Make the Road York and New York Communities for Change are leading the effort and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is simultaneously trying to organize workers into a union.

In addition to the legislation, the City Council is also holding a hearing Wednesday afternoon on working conditions at car washes. In 2008, state investigators found nearly 80% of operators in the city violated minimum wage and overtime laws.

The New York State Car Wash Association, the local industry’s leading advocacy group, only has three members in the city and said it did not yet have a comment on the bill. Since the car-wash campaign began, the group has tried to distinguish its members, who operate primarily upstate and on Long Island, from nonmember operators in the city. The group has conducted seminars with the state Department of Labor on minimum wage and overtime laws.

“We do not condone business practices that violate the law and our membership standards,” said Suzanne Stansbury, executive director of the association.

The campaign has focused much of its attention on Lage Management Corp., a Pelham-based operator with about 20 car washes in the five boroughs. A press release on the bill cited an investigation of Lage by the state attorney general’s office.

“As of right now we don’t know if it will be positive or negative for us,” said Jennifer Lage, a company manager. “We value our employees, so whatever benefits them, we’re not afraid of it.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer Affairs did not have an immediate comment. In California, the other major city where efforts have been made to organize workers at car washes, operators must apply for a registration certificate from the state’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

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