For a decade, he’s toiled 12 hours a day for meager pay, polishing cars to a gleam with harsh chemicals that make his nose bleed.
Because he’s in the country illegally, like many of his co-workers, he was afraid to complain.
But no longer.
Mexican immigrant Adan Nicolas says he wants New Yorkers to know the anonymous army that keeps their SUVs shiny is being mistreated.
“We need a fair wage — and for them to pay up and stop stealing from us, and abusing us as workers,” said Nicolas, 32, who works at LMC Car Wash in Astoria, Queens.
LMC, which is owned by car wash kingpin John Lage, is one of at least 10 outfits under state investigation for labor abuses.
Nicolas is among the workers who have shared stories of long hours and short pay with the state attorney general’s office.
“It’s a stressful, draining job,” he said. “To be standing up all day, or hunched over, scrubbing,” he told the Daily News.
He said he makes $5.50 an hour, well under the state-mandated minimum wage of $7.25. He often doesn’t earn enough in tips to make it a legal salary, sometimes just $5 or $10 a day.
He is not paid overtime, even though he usually works well over eight hours a day.
Nicolas, who lives in Astoria with his younger brother, works Wednesday through Sunday, using a small brush to clean the inside of cars.
He often has to use harsh chemicals and the company does not give him a protective mask, he said.
His eyes sting, his vision blurs, sometimes his nose bleeds.
LMC recently started providing gloves; he used to buy his own, he said.
Advocates [led by Make the Road NY] say an array of toxic chemicals and cleaners are used at area car washes; the most dangerous is hydrofluoric acid, which gives rims their bright shine.
“We’re putting ourselves in danger. We have to do this work, even though it’s risky,” said Nicolas.
“As an immigrant, this is the work I have to do.”
Nicolas, who emigrated from Veracruz, Mexico, 12 years ago, is undocumented.
He says his bosses took advantage of that.
“You ask for a raise, and they say no,” he said. “In a certain way, they say, since we don’t have papers, we don’t have rights.”
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