December 15, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn NY – Striking “washeros” from the Vegas Auto Spa at 555 Seventh Avenue got a big boost in their ongoing fight with business owner Marat “Matt” Leschinsky over the weekend, when a large contingent of supporters joined them in march on the car wash that eventually carried them all the way to the owners’s doorstep in Bay Ridge.
“Despite the pressures that these workers feel – particularly at this time of year – they have the strength and moral certainty to stand up and demand their rights,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum told LaborPress on Sunday. “To demand that they be treated with justice, that they get what they are owned, and that they have a right to form a union.”
Vegas Auto Spa workers have been on strike for almost a month now. On October 7, eight employees filed suit against Leshinsky in Brooklyn Federal Court alleging more than $600,000 in wage violations and other damages.
The workers say that their boss paid them less than the minimum wage and forced them to work almost 100 hours a week without overtime.
“This is in our neighborhood, and when workers are being cheated in your neighborhood, you have the obligation to stand up and protect them, and do everything you can,” Councilman Brad Lander [D-39th District] told LaborPress.
When workers initially struck on November 19, they wanted to become the latest car wash to organize under the RWDSU banner. But they say Leshinsky stubbornly refuses to recognize the union and is instead working hard to block workers from casting union votes.
“These are workers who are paid a sub-minimum wage, and even then their wages are stolen, their tips are taken away, and they receive no protective gear – not even a lousy pair of gloves to deal with hazardous chemicals,” Appelbaum added. “They’re just saying, ‘Treat us fairly.’ And they know that the only way they’ve got a shot is by forming a union.”
The RWDSU has become a trailblazer over the last two years, successfully organizing seven car washers throughout New York City, while inspiring others to follow suit.
Last summer, two car washes in the Bronx and Queens became the latest businesses to sign contracts with workers.
The union has had contact with Leshinsky, but on Sunday, the Vegas Auto Spa remained shut, and workers decided to board a bus and take their grievances directly to the owner’s doorstep.
“We’ve spoken to the owner from time to time, and today he’ll have that opportunity once again,” Appelbaum said.
In the meantime, Councilman Lander said he hoped to “step up” with contributions to the “washeros” strike fund.
“Christmas is a tough time to be out on Strike,” Councilman Lander said. “I feel our community can provide some real strong moral, political and financial support to help these workers win.”