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A disgraceful attack on workers

Stuart Apelbaum | President, RWDSU | 10/29/2015, 4:20 p.m.
New York City’s new Car Wash Accountability Act, designed to regulate an industry that has long operated without any oversight ...
Stuart Applebaum

New York City’s new Car Wash Accountability Act, designed to regulate an industry that has long operated without any oversight and which has a disgraceful history of worker exploitation, is under attack.

The would-be destroyers are members of the Car Wash Association, who want to maintain the status quo and the high-priced lawyers they have hired to gut the new law with a bogus suit that will keep the immigrant “carwasheros” trapped in poverty and working in unsafe conditions.

Members of the association are being hypocritical: This is an industry with an appalling track record and they have done nothing to change that. In fact, the association was formed for the sole purpose of trying to stop passage of the law and to protect their ability to operate in the shadows.

In recent years, car wash owners have agreed to settlements worth millions of dollars. These settlements are restitution for money taken from workers—workers who are struggling to get by in a difficult and demanding industry. This is an industry that desperately needs to change.

This new law for the first time gives the city regulatory power over the industry and requires them to be licensed, to obey environmental guidelines and obtain a bond to protect workers and consumers.

The owners have made much of the bond issue, but they have been disingenuous about it. The law states that owners must post a $150,000 surety bond to ensure that money is available to pay any claims workers or consumers may have. If the owner has a proven system of monitoring the workplace to ensure that wage theft will not occur, they would have to post just a $30,000 bond. One way recognized by the law to achieve that is through the presence of union representation for workers, but it is certainly not the only way. Owners who have consented to a government-ordered monitoring system also qualify. The point is that when a union is present or when there is other workplace monitoring, issues of wage theft can be quickly remedied.

The owners also say that they don’t have the money to pay for the bond, but the fact is they are not putting up those amounts; they are simply buying insurance at a small percentage of that cost. And at the same time that they complain about the cost, they are spending tens of thousands of dollars or more on lawyers to kill this historic legislation.

It is plain to see that the bond issue is a red herring. The owners don’t want to open their books and don’t want their workers to join a union because a union provides monitoring and a grievance procedure that empowers and protects workers. Ten shops have voted to join the RWDSU and nine have won union contracts.

The City Council, led by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, stood up for workers in enacting the legislation, which Mayor Bill de Blasio courageously signed it into law. And you can be sure that we at the Car Wash Campaign will fight back against this suit and do everything possible to reform this industry and improve the lives of thousands of workers.