Car wash owners want to take a closer look at a new law that helps car wash workers and no one is happy.
The Association of Car Wash Owners filed a lawsuit against the city in Federal District Court in Manhattan, claiming that a law designed to protect low-wage workers illegally favors unions. The Association represents close to 90 washing operations throughout the city,
The lawsuit centers on new regulations that require owners of non-unionized car washes to post a $150,000 surety bond before obtaining a license. Unionized operations would pay $30,000.
Legal representatives for the owners said the two-tier system was illegal and violates past decisions by the United States Supreme Court that limits the ability of local government to favor or discourage collective bargaining. According to car wash owners, the Car Wash Accountability Act puts unions at a competitive disadvantage.
The Car Wash Campaign, a pro-worker unit that features members of New York Communities for Change, Make the Road New York and has support from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, isn’t happy with the lawsuit and is crying foul.
“We are appalled and disgusted by this lawsuit filed by carwash owners with a proven history of wage theft to try anything and everything to stall or avoid altogether the most basic, reasonable oversight of an industry where wage theft and worker exploitation has been endemic for decades,” read the group’s collective statement.
Last year, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman found that car washes in New York City were still engaging in wage theft after arriving at a $3.9 million settlement in the spring of 2014. The Car Wash Campaign said its leaders found more wage theft and already referred close to 10 car washes for investigation, prosecution or litigation by the New York Labor Department, the Office of the Attorney General or private attorneys.
According to the lawsuit, the bond that the carwash association emphasizes is a $150,000 bond designed to secure worker wages against wage theft and to protect consumers and possible creditors.
Car washes with a mechanism in place proven to reduce the likelihood of unremedied wage theft qualify for a reduced bond of $30,000. These mechanisms can include government agency-supervised monitoring arrangements or a collective bargaining agreement if it provides similar protection as long as it reduces the likelihood of non-collectable wage theft judgments occurring.
“Members of the association are being hypocritical,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum in a statement. “This is an industry with an appalling record of wage theft, and the owners in the association have done nothing to change that. In fact, the reason the association was formed was to stop passage of the law and to protect the owners’ ability to operate in the shadows.
Deborah Axt, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, piled on with more stern opinions on the lawsuit.
“This lawsuit is another appalling attempt by this industry to avoid any oversight or accountability,” said Axt in a statement. “The immigrant community of New York City is fed up with bottom-feeding employers like these preying on immigrant workers. Our city has finally said, through the Carwash Accountability Law, that it will stand with workers and responsible employers to help release this industry from the hands of wage-thieving employers.
Axt also said that car washes buying a basic health insurance policy should be “common sense.” “The cost to all car washes is modest, and any car wash with a proven system that allows workers to monitor and correct abuses can obtain a reduced bond,” she said.
“This outrageous lawsuit is a slap in the face of every ‘carwashero’ in the city who has been a victim of wage theft,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York City Communities for Change. “The Car Wash Accountability Act is designed to protect workers from mistreatment and violations of the law. The car wash industry has long operated like the Wild West and would rather pour money into a bogus lawsuit than to comply with the law.”