Hilary Klein, lead organizer of Make the Road New York, and Luna Ranjit, executive director of Adhikaar, a Queens-based Nepalese support group, talk about their efforts to organize service workers, like manicurists and car wash attendants, for minimum wage and better working conditions.
Car washers, taxi workers, livery cab drivers and union leaders showed up on Manhattan’s West Side Wednesday to put pressure on car wash owners they say are abusing workers.
The campaign is by Workers Aligned for a Sustainable and Healthy New York (WASH NY) and supporters pledged to help meet the car washers’ needs.
The washers say the unfair working conditions include getting paid below-minimum wage, no accurate accounting for tips, and a lack of protective gear against dangerous chemicals.
The attorney for one of the accused car wash owners is refuting the claims.
Deborah Axt (Spanish and English). firstname.lastname@example.org. 347.432.6254
Olivia Leirer. email@example.com. 646.479.3426
Dan Morris. firstname.lastname@example.org. 212.684.5300/917.547.8005
First-of-its-Kind Investigative Report Propels Car Wash Industry Reform Effort
New York, NY— An eye-opening investigative report showing widespread mistreatment of the city’s car wash workers was released today by WASH New York, a new campaign launched by Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), UFCW, to improve industry standards and achieve greater protection of workplace rights. With a broad coalition of car wash workers, elected officials, labor leaders, and activists, WASH New York—Workers Aligned for a Sustainable and Healthy New York—unveiled the report in front of Metro Car Wash in Rego Park, Queens, a car wash exemplifying some of the worst practices in the industry. Called The Dirty Business of Cleaning NYC’s Cars, the report is based on months of in-depth interviews and meetings with 89 car wash workers at 29 car washes around the city, a representative sampling.
“Washing cars, the boss makes us work long hours, from 7 in the morning until 7 o’clock at night, for $5.50 an hour plus tips,” said David de la Cruz Pérez, a worker at Sutphin Boulevard Car Wash. “They yell at us, they disrespect us, and they treat us as if we were not even human beings. Now we know what our rights are and we want to be respected. We have to be united and put a stop to these abuses and recuperate our dignity.”
On wages, hours, and benefits, the key findings are as follows: more than 71 percent of the workers were on the job at least 60 hours a week, with some putting in as many as 105 hours; 75 percent didn’t receive any overtime pay for exceeding 40 hours; 66 percent reported being paid less than the minimum wage; over 40 percent reported getting only 15 minute or less breaks for lunch; and not a single car wash worker received paid sick days. Only one worker interviewed was offered any kind of health care.
The report also found that scheduling, hours, and pay are subject to the whims of management, and especially, the weather; and that workers were exposed to hazardous chemicals, unguarded machinery, and electrical outlets close to wet surfaces—all without access to the most basic protective equipment.
“The company did not provide us with any protection from the strong chemicals,” said Heriberto Hernandez, a former employee at Metro Car Wash. “We did not have gloves, masks or smocks. “Sometimes, I’d cut my hand or arm-it’s part of the job. There were no first-aid kits at the car wash.”
Five key recommendations for city and state elected officials were presented and discussed at the campaign launch: 1) stronger and more vigilant enforcement of all applicable wage and hour laws, and all applicable workplace health and safety regulations, at the state and city level; 2) an easier path to exercising the right to join a union without fear of intimidation or retaliation; 3) annual state and city inspections to ensure compliance with labor laws and all applicable workplace regulations; 4) state and city publication of best practices for preventing unlawful treatment of car wash workers; 5) state and city hearings on mistreatment of car wash workers and unlawful industry-wide practices.
“We’re here today to say that car wash workers should be able to exercise the same rights as all other workers, including the fundamental right to join a union if they so choose,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). City and state elected officials responded favorably and backed the campaign, especially those representing parts of Queens and areas in other boroughs with a large number of car washes.
"I want to send a very clear message to car wash owners: it’s time to end unjust practices like underpaying workers, not providing adequate health and safety protections, and failing to offer crucial benefits like paid sick days,” said New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras.
"Decent wages and fair working conditions—those are two of the most basic rights of the American worker," said New York State Senator Jose Peralta (D-Queens). “Below minimum-wage pay and exposure to potent chemicals without protective gear or training is abusive and unacceptable.”
"We cannot stand idly by as the car wash industry exploits their hard-working employees with no regard for their rights,” said New York City Council Member Daniel Dromm (D-Queens). “We demand that car washes provide their workers with living wages and a safe working environment.”
“We take labor violations extremely seriously, and we will not allow the unsafe work environments, low wages, and wage theft to continue,” said New York State Assembly Member Francisco Moya (D-Queens). “These violations are committed disproportionately against immigrants and members of the Latino community, individuals who are often scared to speak up when they are being wronged.”
“This campaign will raise awareness around the unsafe conditions and poor wages some workers experience each day they turn up to their jobs,” said New York Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “I support these workers’ effort toward fighting for fair wages and better working conditions in the work place.
“This organizing effort is long overdue, and I am so thrilled that Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change and RWDSU are all uniting around this important campaign,” said New York Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan).