Stuart Appelbaum (29184)
Stuart Appelbaum

In April, hundreds of car wash workers and community and worker activists joined together at Stella and Charles Guttman Community College in Manhattan for the second annual Car Wash Workers Assembly. The workers gathered to celebrate the successes of the two-year-old WASH New York campaign, including winning union elections at eight New York City car washes and ratifying six union contracts that include wage and benefit improvements. The carwasheros also celebrated a $3.9 million settlement between the state and car wash kingpin John Lage and one other operator over unpaid wages, $2.2 million of which will be divided among car wash workers whose wages were stolen.

The WASH New York campaign—which is supported by community groups Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change, as well as the RWDSU—has struck a chord with New Yorkers because it embodies the most pressing issues facing workers today.

It’s why every citywide elected official in New York City, along with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, was on hand at the assembly, and why the event was covered by major city media organizations.

Mayor Bill de Blasio summed it up when he addressed the brave carwasheros who have inspired so many. “This is part of a bigger fight,” he said. “This is the progressive city that we will build together.”

The carwasheros are standing up for all low-wage workers in New York City. They are making a statement that no matter what you do for a living, no matter how long you and others like you have been exploited and regardless of your documentation status, you deserve to be treated like a human being. You deserve the opportunity to earn fair wages and to have your voice heard at work. Your tips, your wages and your dignity—these things are rightfully yours and cannot be stolen from you.

The carwasheros have stood up for themselves by banding together and winning a union voice with the RWDSU. They’ve proven that when they join together, workers in New York City can improve their jobs and change their lives.

The campaign continues to roll forward. Progress is being made on the legislative front, where the Car Wash Accountability Act, which is sponsored by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, would implement important environmental and consumer protections in the largely unregulated car washindustry.

The second annual Car Wash Workers Assembly showcased the power that New York’s workers have to change an entire industry. They are on the front line of the fight against obscene income inequality, which has made life a struggle to survive for too many New Yorkers. The carwasheros are living proof that we can make real change in the lives of working people.