Last week, New York City taxi drivers, black car drivers, community activists and union leaders announced their alliance with the Workers Aligned for Sustainable and Healthy (WASH) New York campaign. Together, they said they’ll help the campaign pressure car wash owners to improve working conditions for their employees.
The campaign is a result of complaints by car wash workers of wage and hour violations and unsafe working conditions. WASH New York is a coalition of Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change.
“We are proud to be here with representatives of the Taxi Workers Alliance and the Machinists Union who represent New York’s Black car drivers,”said Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) President Stuart Appelbaum while speaking at a news conference in front of the Westside Highway Car Wash. “They have made the choice to stand up, speak out and act on behalf of the car wash workers. What a powerful statement their support means. Tens of thousands of drivers in this city will be hearing from their representatives about this campaign, about the terrible conditions workers face.”
According to a report released by WASH New York, there are almost 200 car washes in New York City’s five boroughs, and keeping the city’s cars clean are up-wards of 5,000 employees.
In 2010, the operators of Broadway Bridge Car Wash in upper Manhattan agreed to a nearly $2 million settlement with the state Department of Labor, the report stated.
The owners of the car wash agreed to pay $1.3 million in back wages, over-time and earned tips between 2003 and 2008 to workers who had not been properly compensated.
“We decided to join this campaign because we want to be paid a decent salary, we want protection from the chemicals we use on the job and we want to be treated with dignity,” said Asai Nicolas Flores, who works at LMC Car Wash in Astoria.
WASH New York, the RWDSU and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union conducted interviews with 89 New York City car wash workers over several months at 29 different car wash businesses.
According to their findings, there was widespread mistreatment of car wash workers around the city. The majority of those polled worked 61 to 80 hours a week and were paid $201 to $400 in that same time span.
Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, spoke about the movement like for car wash employees around the city that she felt was necessary. “We are proud to offer our help and support to WASH NY and to stand with the car wash workers in their struggle for just and fair working conditions,” said Desai. “Taxi workers know irsthand the great value of car wash workers’ labor and understand all too well their struggle for justice and rights.
“We call upon all taxi drivers to boycott carwashes where workers are being abused and instead to rely on those where workers’ rights are respected,” said Desai.
Jim Conigliaro, directing business representative of the International Association of Machinists District 15, represents Black car drivers around the city. Conigliaro discussed how he thinks he constituents are being taken advantage of and which car washes drivers need to avoid.
“Just like the black car drivers, workers in the car wash industry are recent immigrants,” Conigliaro. “Their employers think they can take advantage of them. We pledge today to inform the drivers we represent that they should avoid using car washes identified by WASH NY as places where workers are abused. We will also encourage drivers to use car washes where employers have agreed to do the right thing.”