It took an hour to turn “Yes we can” into “Yes we did.”
Newly unionized workers at Off Broadway Car Wash in Elmhurst walked off the job Thursday to protest the owner’s refusal to negotiate a contract.
The 15 so-called carwasheros idled the business, chanting and handing out flyers near an inflatable rat for an hour. The demonstration worked: just after 12:30 p.m., the store owner sent word that he would agree to discuss their wage and schedule concerns.
“To negotiate in good faith — that’s required under the law, and that’s all we are asking,” said David Jimenez, an organizer with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union who led the demonstration along with representatives from Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change.
The car wash is one of eight citywide that the union and two nonprofits have organized over the past two years, forming bargaining units for roughly 200 workers out of the 5,000 who clean cars in the city.
Even though their wages increased from $4 an hour to about $6.25 an hour after they voted to join the union last November, employees said problems have persisted.
Refugio Denicia Mora, who has toiled there for 15 years, says he takes home just $300 including tips on a good week, even after working up to 70 hours.
“We’re fighting to better our working conditions,” the 34-year-old father of two said during a speech to the workers. “This is for all of us; this isn’t just for a couple of people.”
Winters are especially tough for car wash employees since weather fluctuations dictate how much they can work.
Detailer Orlando Hernandez said the walkout was important even though it turned away customers during busy midday hours.
“It’s better, I’m not worried,” said Hernandez, 40, through a Spanish interpreter. “We’re doing this to have better wages in the future.”
Stephen Hans, a lawyer representing the owner of Off Broadway, said he expects the workers to win a contract for higher wages and more days off.
“We’ve been trying to keep the union out,” he said, “but since they’re there, we’re required to sit down with them, which we’re going to do on Monday.”
He also noted that the store faces increased competition from discount shops that refuse to pay workers an adequate wage.
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