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Coalition aims to clean up car washes in our neighborhoods

Stuart Appelbaum President | , Rwdsu | , Ufcw | 3/22/2012, 4 p.m.
At Hi-Tek Car Wash, sending a message of change to low-wage workers

Edilberto Rojas-Rosas is a 25-year-old father of two struggling to support his family on the $378 he brings home weekly for working 72 hours at an East Harlem car wash. Paying the rent and putting food on the table is a daily struggle. For thousands of car wash workers in New York City, it is a similar story.

On March 16, Workers Aligned for a Sustainable and Healthy New York (WASH NY) gathered at LMC Car Wash on East. 109th Street in East Harlem to rally in support of workers like Rojas-Rosas. The car wash is one of many owned by mogul John Lage, who, in 2009, was ordered by the federal Department of Labor to pay more than $3 million in back wages to employees.

A new report issued by WASH NY--which is made up of community groups Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change, with the help of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union--reveals that the kind of wage and hour violations suffered by Lage's workers is widespread throughout the car wash industry in New York City. In fact, in-depth interviews with 89 car wash employees at 29 different car washes found that the majority work at least 60 hours a week and earn less than $400 a week. Workers' schedules are a nightmare and subject to the whims of management and swings in the weather; paid time off, health care and other benefits are virtually nonexistent.

That's why WASH NY is working with car wash workers to change the industry. In recent years, these three organizations have each fought wage theft in local retail and grocery stores and stopped other forms of mistreatment and workplace abuse experienced by immigrant workers, who are particularly vulnerable to harm--people much like the thousands of car wash workers in New York City.

Workplace law violations in the car wash industry in New York City go far beyond those few that have been officially sanctioned. The report, which can be seen at washnewyork.org, provides compelling evidence that city and state officials should increase the enforcement of wage and hour laws and all applicable workplace health and safety regulations, and perform yearly city and state inspections of car washes.

Car wash workers like Rojas-Rosas are driving the WASH NY campaign, courageously speaking out about their treatment. Together, they are fighting to transform their industry and turn car wash work into jobs that can help create better lives for themselves and their families.

They deserve to win, and we plan to help them achieve a lasting victory not only for themselves but also for the labor movement in New York and, indeed, this city.