February 21, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, NY – Workers at an Elmhurst car wash who have seen their hours cut and salaries withheld, have gone on strike – and the supporters backing them up to the hilt say that their fight has much wider implications for other struggling low-wage workers throughout the city.
Last month, workers at the Five Star Car Wash on Broadway, located at 42-08 80th Street, forced owner David Amar to the bargaining table after they walked off the job and left stunned customers backed up on Woodside Avenue.
Since that initial sit down, however, the union representing the hard-pressed “car washeros” say that the owner has failed to bargain in good faith – and instead has embarked on a retaliatory campaign against his employs by slashing their hours, withholding pay and even shutting down the establishment on odd occasions.
Amar was briefly present to witness the start of the strike on Thursday Morning, but refused to answer questions and sped away in an SUV as representatives from the RWDSU, Local 338, Local 1102 and elected officials joined workers on the picket line.
“He took one look at this and he ran away,” said David Mertz, assistant to RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. “So, we have courage, and we have cowardice. We have honest working people, and we have someone with no sense of dignity. We’ve got to stand out here and fight until the bad people see the error of their ways.”
Striking has proven to be an effective tactic for the RWDSU and it allies in the WASH NY campaign to uplift city car wash workers.
In November, workers at the Sunny Day Car Wash in the Bronx began a three-month strike that ultimately resulted in a signed contract plus backpay. The Bronx car wash is now one of six establishments where city car wash workers have successfully agitated for a negotiated contract.
Workers at the Five Star Car Wash on Broadway say they are in this latest strike for the long haul, as well.
“We’re going to be here for as long as we need to because we have to win,” said Refugio Denicia, a car wash worker for the past 15 years. “We’re going to continue to be strong.”
Joseph Dorismond, RWDSU organizing coordinator, briefly attempted to engage Amar before the car wash owner drove away.
“He told me that he doesn’t care what happens because he’s going to put up a new building here,’ Dorismond said.
New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm [D-25th District] said that business owners, including Amar, have a moral obligation to pay their workers fairly, and that the City Council under the leadership of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is now ready to take action to ensure that they do.
“There’s a movement among all low-wage workers to gain the respect and dignity and pay that they deserve throughout this city,” Councilman Dromm said. “Fortunately, we have a new speaker in the City Council who is closely aligned with the worker movement. And we intend to use all the resources we have available to us in the City Council to legally provide these workers with good pay and dignity at their
State Senator Jose Peralta [D- 13th District] took a similar tone, while invoking the legacy of slain Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his fight for workers’ rights.
“You work hard,” State Senator Peralta told car wash workers. “And we need to make sure that this owner understands that this work has dignity. And if he doesn’t understand that, than we will make him understand.”
According to Mertz, striking remains an effective tool for downtrodden workers, and one that will, indeed, be used more often if necessary.
“The strike is such a powerful and profound way to try to seek justice,” Mertz said. “It’s the ultimate pushback that a worker has. Nobody wants to do that, but if you’re given no choice, it’s still a powerful weapon that workers have at their disposal. I think you’re going to see more of it until things change.”