Car wash activists release report on John Lage

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 6/20/2013, 12:08 p.m.

According to a recently released report by car wash workers and their advocates, the owner of several car washes with labor law violations is still paid by the city to clean city-owned cars.

Created and distributed by Make the Road New York, Center for Popular Democracy, New York Communities for Change and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the report includes public documents that they believe show that city taxpayers have "spent hundreds of thousands of dollars supporting" John Lage and his associate Fernando Magalhaes.

According to the report, between 2007 and 2013, Lage Car Wash Inc. had contracts with the New York City Police Department and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) worth over $300,000 combined. Also, the city paid Lage Car Wash at least $135,924 for the past three years for car wash services and almost $38,000 to other entities that are controlled by Lage or Magalhaes. Last year, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation in Lage's business practices.

Currently, car wash employees of Lage's report that they work over 50 hours a week for an hourly wage of $6 without tips or about $7.30 including tips and including overtime. Back in 2005, the U.S. Labor Department sued Lage on charges he and 15 of his companies "willfully and repeatedly" violated wage laws. The suit ended with Lage paying $4.7 million in wages and fines.

None of this was of much surprise to Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum.

"This report is proof that Lage Car Wash Inc. and its treatment of workers is not fair to the workers, nor do these conditions uplift and sustain our communities," said Appelbaum. "New York City should quickly take action and truly reconsider doing business with a company who operates in this manner."

Last week, car wash workers and supporters attended the Car Wash Workers General Assembly, where they discussed their experiences working for Lage-owned companies.

"We learned from the strike at Sunny Day [in the Bronx] and the struggle at Soho [in Manhattan] that we can defend our rights and win, and we are no longer going to accept mistreatment and poverty wages," said Hector Gomez, a car wash worker who worked at the recently closed Lage Car Wash in Soho and currently works at Sutphin Car Wash. "Just think how much more we can win when all the car washes in New York City are organized and united."