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Know Your Rights
Source: Daily News
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Workers at Queens car wash are first in city to sign union contract

The three-year deal at Astoria Car Wash & Hi-Tek 10 Minute Lube mandates a series of raises and other benefits for the 21 immigrant “carwasheros” and nine oil changers.

Workers at a Queens car wash that was the first in the city to unionize now have a contract giving them a boost in pay and benefits.

The three-year deal at Astoria Car Wash & Hi-Tek 10 Minute Lube mandates a series of raises, a paid 30-minute break, a set schedule and the ability to take up to four weeks of unpaid leave for the 21 immigrant “carwasheros” and nine oil changers.

Roberto Lopez, who has been cleaning and vacuuming car interiors at Hi-Tek for $5.65 an hour plus tips for over three years, said he’s feeling upbeat about the changes.

“I feel really happy. For us, this will be a really big change. I’m really thankful, said Lopez, 22, who is originally from Veracruz, Mexico and lives in Astoria.

“To be able to take sick days and time off, this will be big,” he said. “They used to keep our tips, but this is not happening anymore. Things are different. They are better.”

The new contract, signed Friday, goes into effect June 3.

The workers are members of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents about 45,000 employees in the city.

“This car wash contract has broad significance for all New Yorkers,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. “It proves that low-wage immigrant workers are able and willing to stand up and fight for better lives through unionization. We congratulate these carwasheros for their courage in this fight.”

Hi-Tek owner Gary Pinkus did not return calls for comment.

The Hi-Tek workers currently earn a base rate of $5.50 an hour plus tips. By 2015, they will get a base rate of $7.03 — adding up to an average of $9.18 an hour with tips.

Workers at the East Elmhurst car wash first voted to join RWDSU last September. Employees at five other city car washes have followed suit.

The votes came after a campaign, led by the nonprofit organizations Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change, to document and improve conditions for car wash employees across the city — many of them undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

In a 2012 survey conducted by the groups at nearly 200 car washes across the city, two-thirds of workers reported being paid less than minimum wage at times. Some earned just $125 a week.

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