July 31, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – Documents filed in Brooklyn federal court earlier this week allege that a Car Wash owner in Queens who worked some of his employees without rest, allowed only 10 minute breaks to eat when business was slow, and paid staff as little as six bucks an hour — now owes nine workers some $400,000 in withheld wages.
Car wash workers employed at the Magic Wash & Lube, located at 107-05 Merrick Boulevard, Queens, also say that their boss — Jasbir Obhan — paid workers in cash, often sent them home without pay when the weather was bad, and forced them to share hard-earned tips collected over 10-plus hour work days.
“I generally worked six days a week for over 70 hours a week, but the boss doesn’t pay us any overtime,” said Miguel Yax, father of a 7-year-old son, and a car wash worker for the last 15 years. “I hope that my coworkers and I are able to get all of the wages our boss stole from us.”
The losses alleged in the lawsuit accuses Obhan, Merrick Magic Enterprises Inc.and A.J.A. Car Wash Inc., of cheating car wash workers out of more than $44,000 each.
Another worker named Hezekiah Davis has been at the popular Queens car wash for almost 25 years now, but desptie working a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift, six days a week, Davis reportedly only earns a scandalous $6 an hour.
The last time the minimum wage stood at $6 an hour in New York was way back in 2005. The current minimum wage in New York is $8.75 and will rise to $9 by year’s end.
“I have three kids and I feel very tired because I work so much in order to survive,” said 52-year-old car wash worker Andres Pu. “I have lived in Queens for more than 10 years and it’s hard for me to pay rent and support my family with such illegally low wages. I am hopeful that we will reach a fair solution.”
In the last three years, The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU], along with the WASH New York campaign, has successfully organized workers and secured contracts at nine car washes in the city.
The groups have also been strong supporters of the Fight for $15 movement, helping to convince Governor Cuomo’s specially-convened Wage Board to recommend raising the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 an hour.
RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum, who was recently appointed to a new statewide task force looking into workplace abuses, said that this week's lawsuit is further proof that “carwasheros” need to continue organizing.
Indeed, Elizabeth Joynes, an attorney for Make the Road New York, said that wage theft is still "epidemic" in New York City’s car wash industry.
“We want to ensure that the most vulnerable workers – including low-wage car wash workers who work long shifts day in and day out through the coldest days of winter and hottest days of summer — understand their rights, and continue to come forward to hold their employers accountable for stealing their hard-earned wages,” Joynes said.