- Queens 10/29/2013 (Make the Road New York)
- Car Wash Workers are angry at how they are being treated on the job. Off-Broadway Car Wash workers in Queens walked off the job today to demand that the owner recognize the union. The owner has been ducking the efforts of the National Labor Relations Board to set up an election despite a government subpoena being issued. The "carwasheros" left their posts at 42-08 80th St. in Elmhurst, at 8:30, soon after clergy, elected officials, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), community supporters and advocates from New York Communities for Change and Make the Road New York held a press conference denouncing the owner for ignoring federal regulators.
Deb Axt, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, said, "It's outrageous that this owner has defied the NLRB and is underpaying its workers. The WASH New York campaign will continue until all carwasheros are treated fairly."
The strike comes on the heels of a major union victory last week. In the space of 24 hours, four car washes -- owned by the two largest car wash owners in the city -- signed contracts with the RWDSU. "No one likes to strike or walk off the job," said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. "A strike is always the last resort, but this owner is not only treating the workers unfairly, but is flouting labor laws by refusing to come to a hearing or allow these workers the basic right to have a union election." After striking, the workers left the shop to attend a 9:30 a.m. hearing at NLRB offices at 2 Metrotech in Downtown Brooklyn to schedule a union election. The workers, who planned to return to work afterward, are exercising their right to win union representation; the NLRB conducts elections to certify whether a majority want the union.
The workers report being paid $4 to $6 an hour, less than the minimum wage required by law, with no overtime, and are subjected to horrendous working conditions. The RWDSU filed a petition for an election in late September, but suspected owner Julie Chou has been unresponsive, pretending not to know the NLRB is taking the necessary steps to order an election. "I believe it's about time that the owner values our work and respects our efforts," said Refugio Denicia, 35, who has worked at the car wash for 12 years. "We are demanding what we deserve, respect, dignity and fair wages," he added. "I want all the workers at Off-Broadway to get the benefits that we deserve and work hard for. We are giving our lives away to this car wash," said Juan C. Estaban, who is 22 and has worked at the car wash for three years.
Workers at the Webster Car Wash and WCA Car Wash in the Bronx, owned by reputed car wash kingpin John Lage, and Jomar Car Wash in and the Sutphin Car Wash in Queens, owned by Fernando Magalhaes have ratified three-year contracts. Lage reportedly owns more than 20 car washes in New York City and he is partners with Magalhaes in some of them. The signings sealed a major victory for the WASH New York campaign, a joint effort between Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change, and supported by the RWDSU. The RWDSU has won a total of six NLRB-conducted elections to unionize car washes throughout New York City. "Car wash owners across the city have to understand that the days of exploiting workers are over," said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change. "These workers are angry at how they have been treated and are united in their fight for justice."