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More car wash workers vote to organize

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 6/20/2013, 12:08 p.m.
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Last week, workers at the Sunny Day Car Wash in the Bronx voted to join a union after striking for a month. The decision comes weeks after employees at the Astoria Car Wash & Hi-Tek Lube, Webster, Sutphin and Lage car washes all voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and United Food and Commercial Workers. It's something that RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum has been waiting to hear.

"Car wash workers across the city have had enough and are fighting back against abusive conditions," said Appelbaum in a statement. "The Sunny Day workers are part of a growing movement of car wash workers in New York City. Their courage and determination are an inspiration to other workers in this industry."

On Nov. 11, 12 workers at Sunny Day Car Wash, located at 169 Lincoln Road, refused to report to work after not being paid for close to three weeks of work. The owner fired them soon thereafter. They've been on strike since then and have demanded their jobs back and the money they're owed. They're still waiting even as the National Labor Relations Board investigates their employer for charges of illegal termination.

"Sometimes we work 12 hours a day, six days a week. Our base wage is below minimum wage. The conditions are bad," said Juan Campis, a Sunny Day car wash worker. "I got tired and told my fellow workers it's time to stop this. So we got together with the union to say that it can and should be better."

The Sunny Day Car Wash strike is the first in the nine-month-old WASH New York campaign, a joint effort between Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change, with support from the RWDSU. Its goal is to organize car wash employees.

Back in 2008, New York state investigators found a significant amount of labor law violations in the car wash industry, which included $6.5 million in underpayments to over 1,300 workers. New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has continued to investigate abuse accusations and is attempting to bring car washes into compliance with labor laws.

In a recent survey conducted by WASH New York, out of 89 workers at 29 different car washes, over 71 percent put in at least 60 hours of work a week, with some working as many as 105 hours. Close to 75 percent of those workers didn't receive overtime time pay for anything exceeding 40 hours.

Deborah Axt, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, said these calls for labor organization might be exactly what employers need to get their act together.

"This is a wake-up call for low-wage workers and their employers: In this city, workers will not stay silent in the face of abuse, wage theft and mistreatment," said Axt. "They deserve fairness and a voice on the job, and are fighting for it."