In New York, two pro-worker events — a Union Square rally and a Bryant Park march — will be held on May Day.
Today, the most important holiday for workers around the world, thousands of working men and women across he U.S. will rally, march and occupy against injustices and in defense of their rights.
Here in our city, the May 1st Coalition for Worker & Immigrant Rights is urging all New Yorkers to gather at Union Square today at noon for the 12th annual May Day march.
Also, Occupy Wall Street has called on young workers to march from Bryant Park in solidarity with the Transport Workers Union, as well as other activities.
Both marches will demand immigration reform that is pro-worker and ends deportations. They will also address the growing poverty and unemployment rate in New York City.
“On April 21, the New York Times reported that almost half the people in New York City are living in poverty,” the May 1st Coalition said in a written statement. “This is indeed a reason to march at Union Square on May Day.”
Despite the appalling poverty and the uncertainty about the future of immigration reform, there are courageous workers in the city who have good reasons to celebrate this May Day.
Last week, Jomar Car Wash in Flushing became the sixth car wash in the city where workers have voted to join a union. By doing so they became part of a growing movement by low-wage workers to organize and fight for their rights.
In 2008, New York State investigators found widespread labor law violations in the car wash industry, including $6.5 million in underpayments to 1,380 workers.
Traditionally ignored and exploited, the 23-1 vote in favor of joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) made clear that car wash workers are not willing to take the abuse any longer.
“Momentum is building in this industry,” said Deborah Axt, executive director of Make the Road New York. “Recently, car wash workers at Sunny Day in the Bronx spontaneously went on strike, LMC Soho car wash workers fought back against attempts to close down the Soho car wash and lay off workers. Now Jomar workers have joined those at the Webster, Soho and Sutphin car washes, making four John Lage-owned car washes that have voted to unionize.”
Lage, the city’s most notorious car wash kingpin, owns more than 20 car washes in the city together with his business partners and employs about 500 workers.
Workers at Jomar — as in the other five car washes that voted for the union — have organized as part of the WASH New York campaign, a joint effort of Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change, with the help of the RWDSU.
“I am very happy we won this election because it’s the only way we are going to achieve a workplace where we are treated with respect.” said Federico Rosales the father of two small children who, after 10 years at Jomar, makes all of $6.15 an hour plus tips. “It’s hard to survive on such a low salary.”
Yet, despite the meager salaries and deplorable working conditions it took a lot of courage for these workers to make their decision to organize.
“These workers had to face down threats and intimidation just to make the basic legally guaranteed choice to join a union,” Axt said. “That reality is depressing. But the courage they have shown tells us all that their time has come.”
And that is something to celebrate on this May Day.
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