May 31, 2013
By Neal Tepel
NEW YORK, NY – Workers at the Hi-Tek Car Wash & Lube in Queens have made history by voting to ratify the first union contract of any car wash in New York City. The three-year contract caps the workers' 10-month campaign for union representation by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). This is the first car wash contract in the United States anywhere east of Los Angeles.
It was a major victory for the workers and significant turning point 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 campaign was launched last year to fight widespread mistreatment in the car wash industry. In September 2012, Hi-Tek workers became the first location in NYC to vote to unionize in an effort to improve their working conditions.
"I feel very happy that the union has signed a contract with our employer which guarantees a higher salary and respect for workers,” said Colombian native Omar Gomez, an oil change worker at Hi-Tek Car Wash for 23 years. “It will be better for our employer as well as the workers. With the help and support of the RWDSU, we have achieved something historic. I have been working here for a long time, and it fills me with satisfaction to know that the workers who come after me will have a union contract guaranteeing them a better quality of life.”
“This car wash contract has broad significance for all New Yorkers. It proves that low-wage immigrant workers are able and willing to stand up and fight for better lives through unionization,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. “We congratulate these carwasheros for their courage in this fight. This contract sends a powerful message to other car wash and low wage workers throughout New York City: You can fight back against poor wages and working conditions, and you can win by joining the RWDSU.”
There are some 200 car washes in New York City, with an estimated 5,000 employees, mostly immigrants who are paid low wages and often denied overtime, to which they are entitled by law.
The campaign has already scored several important victories. The RWDSU has won six National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) car wash elections to unionize throughout New York City, and the campaign has won a successful strike at the Sunny Day Car Wash in the Bronx, saved the jobs of workers at the Soho Car Wash and has brought about significant change in how workers are treated, even at washes the union hasn’t yet organized.