November 25, 2013
By Neal Tepel
Queens, NY – Workers at Off-Broadway Car Wash in Queens have voted 15-1 to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, ending months of efforts to get the owner to recognize the union as the bargaining agent. The owner had defied government subpoenas to set up an election under the auspices of the National Labor Relations Board.
The vote came nearly a month after the workers struck for a half-day at the car wash at 42-08 80th St. in Elmhurst, to attend an NLRB hearing to demand the right to unionize and to complain about what they called the owners’ unfair practices. This strike forced the owners to participate in the NLRB’s procedures to schedule an election.
When the workers joined the union, the car wash was paying most workers less than minimum wage, in some cases only $4 per hour. Workers were also not receiving overtime even though they frequently worked 50 to 60 hours a week.
A few days before the vote, the employer raised wages to the legal minimum rate, but that did not stop the workers from voting for the union. This latest vote to unionize comes about 20 months after the launch of 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. Six car washes have won contracts since the campaign began.
“Once again, courageous ‘carwasheros’ have stood up and declared their strong desire to belong to a union that will fight for their rights,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said. “They are part of a growing movement of car wash workers that are joining the union. We are proud of the strength they have shown and we will continue to support them and all car wash workers in the city in this struggle for workplace justice.”
Worker Refugio Denicia, 35, a native of Mexico, said he has been working at the car wash for 14 years. “Before we started organizing we were all working long hours without breaks and receiving a lot less in wages than what we deserved,” he said. “Now that we've won our election, I feel very satisfied! Our struggle has demonstrated that we deserve respect that we are going to have it from here on! Now it's time to continue to fight until we win our contract!”
The vote to unionize by workers comes on the heels of a major union victory last month when, in the space of 24 hours, four car washes – owned by the two largest car wash owners in the city — signed contracts with the RWDSU. Two independent car washes previously signed contracts with the RWDSU.