Immigrant ‘carwasheros’ from across the city, joined by hundreds of labor leaders, elected officials, advocates and community supporters today conducted a major march and protest to the site of a Brooklyn car wash, where several of the leaders committed civil disobedience. The car wash workers have been on strike since November.
Protesters were arrested after they blocked a street leading to Vegas Auto Spa at 19th St., near the entrance to the Prospect Expressway in Park Slope. In addition to supporting the strikers, the protestors called for speedy passage of the Car Wash Accountability Act, which would regulate the industry.
Those arrested included RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum (above), UFCW President Marc Perrone, RWDSU New York City Director David Mertz, City Council members Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca; Deborah Axt, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, and Renata Pumarol, communications director at New York Communities for Change.
“Car wash workers throughout this city are being taken advantage of — often because of their immigrant status,” Appelbaum said. “Their wages are stolen, their tips are stolen, and their dignity is denied. They have lived in the shadows. It is long past time that this should end and that strong carwash legislation be passed. We thank Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for sponsoring this legislation, and we urge expeditious action by the council and the mayor.”
“We went on strike because we want a union contract but the owner has simply refused,” said Vegas carwashero Angel Rebolledo, 53. “We don’t want any more exploitation. We want fair wages, fair schedules and protection from the dangerous chemicals we use. We will continue to fight until the end. We ask our elected officials to pass the Car Wash Accountability Act to stop the abuses in this industry.”
The arrests came after a rally at the Kolot Chayeinu synagogue on Eighth Ave., and a 10-block march to Vegas Auto Spa on Seventh Ave. Those taking part in the rally, but not getting arrested included Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, clergy, advocates and members of New York Communities for Change, Make the Road New York, Center for Popular Democracy and the Alliance for a Greater New York.
“We can no longer support this fight from the sidelines,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Today’s actions show that our community is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure these workers receive dignity, fair treatment, and a union contract. For nearly four months, they have stood in freezing weather to protest their unjust treatment. I have no doubt the courage and commitment of these workers and all their supporters here today will prevail over the cruel actions of the owner, Marat Leschinsky.”
The Vegas workers have been on strike since Nov. 20, 2014, shortly after they sued the car wash owner for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and damages. The owner has repeatedly refused to settle the dispute and engaged in threats and retaliation.
“These immigrant workers represent millions of low-wage workers from around the country who are subject to the often unlawful practices of their bosses. These carwasheros have declared that, finally, enough is enough,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca. “Their resolve to demand an environment safe from physical harm and harassment is a model for organized labor across the United States. We must continue to advocate on behalf of all workers.”
Demonstrators also called on city officials to pass – and enact into law – the Car Wash Accountability Act, which would regulate the car wash industry, require licensing and include strong worker protections.
“It is horrifying that the Vegas workers are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps up to $1 million, in unpaid wages and damages after suffering years of wage theft at a dangerous job,” said Deborah Axt, co-executive director of Make the Road New York. “It is repulsive that they faced retaliation and intimidation tactics when they asked that their rights be respected. It is unfathomable that they have had to brave nearly four months of this brutal winter outside on strike, and still have not seen justice. It is time for our city to end the abuses of this industry. The Car Wash Accountability Act is a critical first step that we must take now so the city can step in and support car wash workers like these.”
The bill is pending in the City Council.