May 13, 2014
By Stephanie West
Elmhurst Queens, NY – After three strikes and tense negotiations, “carwasheros” at the Off Broadway Car Wash have won a contract that will raise wages and establish a host of worker protections. Off Broadway, located at 42-08 80th St. in Elmhurst, is the seventh car wash to reach a contract since the Wash New York campaign – supported by New York Communities for Change, Make the Road New York and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union – launched in early 2012.
“The mostly immigrant workers at Off Broadway Car Wash are now proud members of the RWDSU,” union president Stuart Appelbaum said. “Their wages will increase immediately and they will receive paid time off. These ‘carwasheros’ have proven throughout this campaign that when workers come together and fight for what they believe in, they win. The RWDSU is proud to support them, as we move forward with our organizing efforts throughout the city.”
The contract came after three strikes at Off-Broadway over a variety of allegations against owner David Amar. The workers voted 15-1 to unionize last November. They filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in February, alleging the owner had stopped paying the workers regularly and cut their hours.
The contract mirrors the other six the RWDSU has reached across the city, including two each at establishments owned by major car wash operators John Lage and Fernando Magalhaes.
“I feel very happy and satisfied,” worker Refugio Denicia said. “I’m very proud because we were able to prove that when we all work together it doesn’t matter how difficult it might seem, goals can be achieved. I hope our contract is an example to other workers who might feel like they don’t have a voice.”
The three-year contract includes wage hikes each year, protections for immigrant workers, fair distribution of hours, posted schedules, fair access to overtime, and five paid days off. The new contract comes a month after state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reached a $3.9 million settlement with Lage, with the bulk of that going to workers who were cheated out of pay.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has introduced the Car Wash Accountability Act, which would require car washes to be licensed and to provide greater transparency regarding ownership. A hearing has been scheduled for this June . There are some 200 car washes in New York City, with an estimated 5,000 employees, mostly immigrants who are paid low wages and too often denied overtime pay, to which they are entitled by law.