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Know Your Rights
Source: Capital New York
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Council questions ‘good faith’ of carwash owners

Carwash owners attempted to defend themselves on Thursday against a proposed bill that would impose a host of new rules and regulations on the industry, but Council members were less than sympathetic, blaming the owners for not addressing workers’ concerns.

During a labor and civil service committee hearing on Thursday, industry representatives voiced their opposition to a proposed measure that would require them to obtain a license in order to operate, and would regulate key parts of the industry, including whether they provide protective gear for workers, and how they dispose of chemical waste.

Carwash owners showed up with dozens of their workers, all in matching T-shirts with “Don’t be antibusiness / No to Intro 125” printed on them.

Members of the Association of Car Wash Owners told the Council the proposed bill unfairly targets their small businesses and does nothing to weed out bad owners.

“Although it’s known as the ‘Car Wash Accountability Act,’ the only thing it will be accountable for is for the demise of modern-day carwashes in New York City as we know it,” said Manuel Vegas, a carwash owner.

“It is a job-killing, anti-small business bill that will unfairly punish an entire industry and put thousands of hard working individuals out of a job,” he added.

Councilman Brad Lander criticized the owners for failing to comply with the laws already in place, which require them to pay workers at least the minimum wage and suggested some might be engaged in wage theft.

“If the industry’s good actors had come together to weed out the bad actors, we wouldn’t have needed legislation,” Lander said. “That you formed a trade association in response to legislation and not pro-actively makes it hard to believe you’re here in good faith.”

Carwash workers in support of the legislation, first introduced by then councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito last year, also showed up to support the measure. Those workers donned red t-shirts with the logo of RWDSU, short for Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has worked to unionize carwash workers.

Testifying in Spanish, Miguel Portillo, a carwash worker, told the Council when he began working five years ago he was paid just $3 an hour.

“My coworkers and I were the victims of wage theft, we had to split our tips with the manager,” Portillo said. “They would take money from our tips to cover lost or damaged items. We didn’t make the minimum wage, we didn’t get overtime.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he supports the legislation and has criticized alleged union-busting at the car washes.

Julie Menin, the commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs, told members the agency would “embrace the opportunity to utilize the agency’s licensing function,” if the bill were signed into law.

“The proposed licensing scheme provides important protections to consumers and prevents car washes from contaminating the city’s water system,” Menin said.

Committee chair Daneek Miller said because the industry is unregulated there isn’t an exact count of car washes across the city.

“Possibly 300 car washes operate in the city, employing as many as 5,000 workers,” Miller said.

“The proposed bill is to license these businesses and cleanup the industry,” he added.

Another round of hearings is expected in the next month. So far, the bill has 26 sponsors, but the council has not yet scheduled a vote.

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