In the space of 24 hours, four car washes – two of which are owned by two of the largest car wash owners in the city — have signed contracts with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
Workers at the Webster Car Wash and WCA/Rico Pobre Car Wash in The Bronx, owned by reputed car wash kingpin John Lage, and the Jomar Car Wash and Sutphin Car Wash in Queens, owned by Fernando Magalhaes have ratified a three-year contract similar to two other union carwashes ratified within the last few months. Lage reportedly owns more than 20 car washes in New York City and partners with Magalhaes in some of them.
“These cashwasheros stood up and demanded dignity and respect on the job. And now they have achieved a first contract that will improve wages and benefits,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. “This contract sends a powerful message to all low wage workers throughout New York City: You can fight back against poor wages and working conditions, and you can win.”
The signings cement a major victory for the workers, the RWDSU and 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 has already scored several important victories with the RWDSU winning seven National Labor Relations Board conducted elections to unionize car washes throughout New York City, winning a successful strike at the Sunny Day Car Wash in the Bronx, saving the jobs of workers at the Soho Car Wash, securing union contracts at Hi-Tek and Sunny Day Car Washes and improving workplace safety conditions at car washes across the city.
Workers at the four car washes were ecstatic over their new contracts.
“I feel very happy because we have finally reached the contract that we fought so hard for,” said Luis Rosales, who has worked at Jomar for more than five years after coming to the U.S. from Mexico. This is going to be a great change for our car wash. More importantly we were able to show other workers that it makes sense to fight and win what seemed impossible.”
David Cruz, 43, who has worked at Sutphin Car Wash for seven years, said: “I’m so happy and grateful to God for letting me fight in this struggle. The contract shows that hard-working people like us can fight for their rights and for respect. I want to especially thank the organizers for supporting us all the way and making us feel that united we could get the changes we deserved.”
Ernesto Salazar, 38, who works at Webster Car Wash and is originally from El Salvador, said: “I am very happy that we achieved our objective. All the sacrifices and fights were well worth it. Now we will validate our rights under the contract at work. We will no longer be treated without dignity, now the bosses have to respect us. We hope to serve as an example to other carwasheros. Si se puedo!”
Omar Pineda, 35, a worker from WCA/Rico Pobre Car Wash said: “I was transferred here after Sixth Ave/Soho Car Wash was closed earlier this year. I feel super happy and proud of our struggle. It has not been easy, but with the courage of all the workers, we succeeded. From now on, we have to serve as an example to other carwasheros. We have to show them, that just we have our contract, they can as well.”
Highlights of the 3-year deal include:
- An immediate wage increase upon signage with three more raises over the life of the contract will bring workers to a minimum of $9.18 an hour.
- The contract also protects immigrant workers, expands protections against discrimination, increases job security by requiring layoffs to be done by seniority, and requires that a shop steward supervise the counting and distribution of tips.
- Starting next year, workers will get five paid days a year and two personal days, in addition to the right to take leave to attend a family member’s funeral, their wedding, the birth of their children and to attend to immigration issues.
- The employer must have just cause to fire a worker and establishes a grievance procedure and binding third party arbitration.
- Workers will have a schedule posted each week, with hours and overtime distributed fairly and equally among the workers.
- Protects workers access to overtime hours
- Workers will also receive holiday bonuses for Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years Day, Easter and Labor Day
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, to which they are entitled by law. “This campaign has turned a major corner,” said Deb Axt, co-executive director of Make the Road New York. “These car washes are owned by two of the biggest players in the industry, and contracts at these carwashes begin to set a new industry standard. Congratulations to the workers and the RWDSU.”
“We congratulate the courageous carwasheros for successfully negotiating and signing contracts that will put more money in their pockets, improve working conditions, allow them to have paid holidays they can enjoy with their families and ensure them the basic rights and dignity every worker deserves,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change. “This means the RWDSU now has contracts at six car washes across the city. We look forward to achieving even more in the weeks and months ahead as we continue to create workplace justice in the entire car wash industry in New York.”