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Another ‘W’ For ‘Washeros’

February 21, 2013
Joe Maniscalco

They were down and out, but after a pair of recently negotiated deals was struck on their behalf, workers at the soon-to-be defunct Lage Car Wash on 6th Avenue will still have jobs after the Soho establishment closes for good this week. (Read More)

“We are so happy to have won our jobs back,” said veteran Lage Car Wash employee Juan Carlos. "It's what we deserved after working for so many years at the car wash. They owed us at least that.”

Carlos and his fellow washeros were facing joblessness just a few weeks ago, after they learned that car wash mogul John Lage had sold his 6th Avenue location to a developer. Prior to that, washeros at the same car wash – fed up with poor working conditions and subverted wages – voted to join the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU] last November.

But now, two separate deals struck between Lage and the RWDSU, as well as New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, are ensuring that the washeros will have jobs at other Lage car washes located elsewhere in the city.

“We congratulate the SoHo carwasheros, who are proud members of the RWDSU, on a successful fight to save their jobs,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said. “We also applaud the attorney general’s aggressive support for workers’ rights. These workers deserve to be treated with fairness and justice. We will continue the fight to ensure that the voices of the carwasheros are heard throughout this city. Now, these workers will not only still have a job, but they will also be able to show other workers the difference a strong union can make.”

Schneiderman’s agreement with Lage ensures that workers at the 6th Avenue car wash will be reassigned to other establishments within a month of the Soho location’s closure. While the union’s deal with Lage guarantees workers a bonus of up to 36 hours of pay in exchange for remaining at the Soho car wash until it shutters.

The attorney general’s deal also has some teeth; if Lage doesn’t live up to his part of the bargain, he is liable for $10,000 in penalties, $10,000 in liquidated damages and restitution of back pay. The RWDSU will also distribute the workers’ final Soho paychecks, so that the washeros are assured of getting what they earned.

“We are happy to have won our jobs back, and feel very relieved,” said another Lage worker named Hector Gomez. “At first we were worried, and didn't know where we were going to end up since at our first meeting  they said they had no obligations to us. I think the fact that we won a union election and the union was always here to support us, made us fearless to confront him. We also had the help of the attorney general, I think that made him more scared to give us our jobs back.”

Workers at Lage’s 6th Avenue car wash have enjoyed the support of a unique collaboration between Make the Road New York [MRNY], New York Communities for Change [NYCC] and the RWDSU called WASH NY, which is slowly revolutionizing the historically anti-union industry.

LaborPress was there on February 6, when washeros at the Soho car wash held a job action protesting Lage’s decision to abruptly shut down with little notice.

“It really was a team effort, the carwasheros here, the union, the organizations and the community that has supported us and made us stronger,” said Jildon Soriano, a Lage washero for seven years.

NYCC Executive Director Jonathan Westin called this latest washero win “The perfect example of the kind of unfair treatment that can be overcome when workers come together and organize.”

“Thanks to the hard work of the attorney general, RWDSU and above all the workers, washeros are no longer viewed as a workforce who are unable to stand up for their own rights,” Westin said.

Indeed, according to MRNY Co-Executive Director Deborah Axt, Lage and his associates were singing a far different tune before the washeros decided to strike.

“Congratulations to the SoHo workers and their union, the RWDSU for showing what can be accomplished when workers take a stand,” Axt said.

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