Car wash workers win strike, sending a powerful message

Stuart Appelbaum | 4/23/2015, 3:24 p.m.

After four months on the picket lines that spanned a brutally cold winter and a difficult holiday season, “carwasheros” at Vegas Auto Spa in Brooklyn, N.Y., have won their strike and ratified a landmark contract agreement that includes wage hikes, strong worker protections and a $1,500-per-person signing bonus.

It’s a resounding victory for the workers, who said they were denied overtime pay and weren’t provided with proper protective equipment. The facility’s owner also agreed to settle a suit the workers filed for wage and hour violations. The strike ended and workers returned to the job earlier this month.

Vegas workers—as well as those at nine other car washes who have joined the RWDSU during the three-year-old WASH New York campaign—have succeeded at winning a voice and changing their lives. The RWDSU remains committed to improving the lives of the city’s car wash workers. That’s why we have been urging the City Council to pass and the mayor to sign the Car Wash Accountability Act, which would require car washes to be licensed and regulated and would include strong worker protections.

But workers across a wide range of low-wage industries need change, and they need a union voice. Empowering workers is important now because of the times we live in—a time when the income equality gap is greater than ever, when workers and immigrants are increasingly under fire in legislatures across America and in the halls of Congress and when low-wage workers in car washes, fast-food restaurants, airports and retail stores are struggling like never before.

In most parts of the country, millions of these workers make the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. In New York and elsewhere, the minimum is higher but still much too low. That’s why workers are seeking a union voice and why we are seeing and participating in campaigns such as the “Fight for $15” and “Low-Wage Rage.”

The courageous carwasheros at Vegas Auto Spa have achieved an inspiring victory that sends a powerful message to all low-wage workers: You can join together, and you can win. Together, we can push back against the growing inequality that threatens our entire economy. Together, working people can demand economic justice—and win.