August 22, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, NY – Workers and supporters at the Jomar Car Wash in Flushing called on President Obama and the U.S. Congress to move on meaningful immigration reform following a weekend sweep in Phoenix, Arizona, in which federal agents rounded up some 300 people. (Watch Video)
“We need immigration reform passed this year,” said Antonio Alarcon, a youth organizer with Make the Road New York. “We’re tired of seeing people being deported for no reason. They’re innocent people. They’re just workers looking for a better future for their children.”
One of those workers looking for a better future is Jomar Car Wash worker Patricio Santiago. The Mexican emigre and father said that while an immigration reform package is bandied about in Congress, families like his continue to suffer daily in multiple ways.
“We saw our brothers in Arizona suffered a raid, but that’s just one of the problems to which we are exposed,” the 13-year resident said.
Last spring, the workers at Jomar Car Wash, located at 5734 Main Street, voted to become part of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in an effort to secure a fair contract and better working conditions from owner and car wash mogul John Lage.
“I’m here today on behalf of all car wash workers that suffer the same pain,” Santiago said. “Until now, the owner has not respected our rights and has not signed a contract.”
In the last year, the RWDSU, with support from community advocacy groups including Make the Road New York, and New York Communities for Change, have steadily begun to revolutionize the car wash industry throughout New York City by successfully organizing businesses that have never before been unionized.
Just last month, workers at the WCA Car Wash in the Bronx, became the seventh group of New York City “car washeros” to join the union through the “WASH NY” campaign. Workers at each of the establishments located throughout the city have bet on the union to help them secure better pay, job protections and improved working conditions in an industry that has been notoriously abusive to its workers.
RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum recently told LaborPress that working conditions have grown so bad, that many more workers are willing to stand up for their rights.
“I also believe that there has to be a new approach for labor,” Appelbaum said. “We believe that labor can no longer see itself as just a labor movement. It has to see itself as the labor component in a broad progressive coalition that engages community groups, communities of faith, everyone of good will who understand that keeping people in poverty and growing income inequality, is not moral, is not ethical, and is not sustainable.”
With the faces of threatened immigrant families behind him, Santiago said that hardworking emigres like him are the “engine pushing the economy of this country,” and that they love the United States as much as the places they left behind.
Nevertheless, without real immigration reform, car wash workers in New York City will continue to fight for workplace justice, even as they fear being swept up in similar raids like the ones that just took place in Arizona.
“You never know,” Alarcon said. “This is just another reason why we can’t wait to pass immigration reform.”