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Know Your Rights
Source: New York Times
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Workers Who Protested Sale of Carwash Will Get New Jobs

Less than two weeks ago, workers at the Sixth Avenue Car Wash in Greenwich Village dropped their sponges and walked out for several hours, protesting the owners’ decision to close the shop, a move they saw as retaliation for their recent decision to unionize.

“What do we want?” a protester asked. “Work! Work! Work!” the employees replied.       

“Cuándo? Cuándo? Cuándo?” the protester called out. When, when, when?       

The question was answered on Wednesday, as the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, announced that the 15 workers would keep their jobs. In an agreement between Mr. Schneiderman and the carwash owners, the employees will be placed in comparable positions at other carwashes the owners operate in the region. Sixth Avenue Car Wash is also called Lage Car Wash, which is owned by John Lage, Fernando Magalhaes and Jose Pires.       

If the owners do not transfer workers to new positions within 30 days, the company will face penalties, including payments of $20,000 per unemployed worker, half of which goes to the employee, and half to the state.       

“We didn’t think this would happen,” said Juan Carlos Rivera, 26, a worker who spoke by phone from the carwash. “But the community supported it, and thanks to God, it turned out O.K.”       

In November, the Sixth Avenue Car Wash became the fifth carwash to unionize in New York City, part of a nationwide movement to organize an industry in which labor violations are well documented.       

On Feb. 1, the owners of the Sixth Avenue Car Wash announced that they had sold the operation, and that the workers would be jobless before March 1. Employees said their bosses were punishing them for unionizing. Dennis Lalli, a lawyer for Mr. Magalhaes and Mr. Lage, said the sale occurred months before unionization, and could not possibly be a retaliatory move.       

But a source familiar with the agreement said on Wednesday that the Sixth Avenue Car Wash workers had already lodged several labor complaints against their employers before the operation was sold in June.       

New York labor law makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against employees who report labor law violations. Acts considered “retaliation” can include dismissal, reduction of hours and closing of a business location.       

Three workers’ rights groups — Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union — reported the carwash’s closing to the attorney general’s office, prompting him to meet with carwash management.       

Another company owned by Mr. Lage, Lage Management, which runs several carwashes in the region, previously paid $3.4 million in back wages and damages to over 1,000 ex-employees.       

The state attorney general’s office continues a larger investigation into other possible labor law violations at 23 carwashes owned or operated by Mr. Lage and Mr. Magalhaes.       

Mr. Lalli, the lawyer, said his clients agreed to the deal only because they had already decided to transfer the workers to other jobs. “It turned out there is some availability and they anticipate some openings in the next 30 days,” he said. “We would not have agreed to these kinds of penalties if we did not have the intent to hire these workers anyway.”       

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