Nine months after launching the Citywide Workers Aligned for a Sustainable and Healthy New York campaign to fight mistreatment in the car wash industry, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union has achieved a new milestone.
On Nov. 22, RWDSU announced that workers at the Sutphin Car Wash, located at 97-31 Sutphin Blvd. in Jamaica, and Lage Car Wash in SoHo have joined their fight for fair wages and safer working conditions, boosting their total union membership from two car wash locations to four.
“The old way of doing business at these establishments are over. Car wash workers across the city have had enough and are fighting back against abusive conditions,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said. “The RWDSU is proud of these workers and will continue to support them – whether it be at the negotiation table or the picket line – as they stand up for a better future for their families.”
In September, employees at the Astoria Car Wash and Hi-Tek 10 Minute Lube, located at 83-01 24th Ave., set a precedent as the first in the City to unionize under RWDSU.
After conducting a series of protests and rallies with the New York Communities for Change Coalition and Make the Road New York, a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower Latino and working class communities, the self-titled “carwasheros” at Webster Car Wash in the Bronx became the second to join last month, spurring others in Jamaica, SoHo and the Bronx to follow suit. Last week, more than a dozen workers at Sunny Day Car Wash in the Bronx went on strike after being denied two weeks pay.
“Momentum is building in this industry. Last week, car wash workers at Sunny Day in the Bronx spontaneously went on strike, and now, Sutphin and LMC Soho workers join the workers at the Webster car wash, making three John Lage-owned car washes in one month that have voted to unionize,” MRNY Co-Executive Director Deborah Axt said. “These workers had to face down threats and intimidation just to make the basic legally guaranteed choice to join a union. That reality is depressing, but the courage they have shown tells us all that their time has come.”
According to NYCC Director of Organizing Jonathan Westin, John Lage has a long-standing history of employee mistreatment and substandard labor practices.
In addition to the alleged mistreatment of workers at his Bronx, Queens and SoHo businesses, Lage was ordered to pay $3.4 million to workers for back pay and damages after a federal lawsuit in 2009.
“Car Wash kingpin John Lage is notorious for his bad labor practices,” Westin said of Thursday’s union expansion. “Today, he received a clear message that car wash workers throughout NYC will no longer tolerate the mistreatment that has been his standard practice for too long.”
Santos Lopez [member of Make the Road New York], a Guatemalan immigrant who has lived in the United States for eight years, worked at the Sutphin Car Wash for four years and was one of the washers to vote pro-union in last week’s vote.
For him, the new formation not only meant an end to exploitation at Sutphin, but also a new respect and dignity for all car wash employees throughout the City.
“These elections are very important for us because we deserve a fair salary, job security, and other benefits,” Lopez said. “With a union, they will treat us with respect and dignity. I’m very happy for myself and my co-workers because of the changes we think will happen at our workplace.”
Although their campaign continues to grow steadily, MRNY officials said their goal is far from reach.
In a recent survey of 89 workers at 29 different car washes throughout the City, MRNY found that more than 71 percent of the employees worked at least 60 hours per week, with some totaling 105 hours weekly basis.
Of that number, nearly 75 percent of the workers did not get overtime pay for exceeding 40 hours, according to MRNY.
As the WASH campaign continues, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is also investigating the alleged abuses at the Lage-owned car washes in an attempt to bring carwashes into compliance with labor laws.
Calls made to John Lage were not returned as of press time.
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