Car wash workers – members of the RWDSU – packed City Hall in New York City today to support the Car Wash Accountability Act.
Car wash workers and their supporters and advocates today urged a City Council Committee to approve the Car Wash Accountability Act which would require car washes to be licensed and codify measures to ensure transparency of ownership in New York City. The bill also contains measures that would enable greater enforcement of wage-theft laws and environmental regulations and impose meaningful penalties for non-compliance.
“This legislation will go a long way toward regulating an industry that has almost no city oversight and has a history of committing millions of dollars in wage theft,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum.
“In the past, one owner alone has agreed to pay more than $7 million in back pay and penalties,” he added. “And these are just the instances we know about. Because of the lack of licensing requirements and ownership transparency, who knows how many more instances exist.”
Advocates told the Council’s Committee on Civil Service and Labor that the bill, sponsored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, would extend licensing requirements of the Department of Consumer Affairs to cover car washes. The agency already oversees 78,000 businesses in 55 industries, including tow truck companies, garages, parking lots and laundries.
Magdalena Barbosa, supervising employment attorney for Make the Road New York, which, along with New York Communities for Change and the RWDSU, has been working on behalf of the workers for more than two years, said the industry is rife with examples of long hours, no overtime pay, tip-stealing, unsafe conditions and questionable environmental practices.
“Violations of the minimum wage and overtime laws are par for the course for many immigrant workers,” Barbosa testified. “But the egregiousness and pervasiveness of wage theft – and repeat violations of wage theft – in this industry has been shocking.”
Several workers testified about having to handle dangerous compounds and detailed questionable practices like allowing unfiltered waste water to enter the city’s sewer system and dumping potentially hazardous sludge into the sewer or trash.
“At one car wash where I worked … the other workers and I were asked to clean out the filter and put all of the sludge into the sewer,” said ‘carwashero’ Juan Carlos Rivera (above left), who has worked at several establishments over the past eight years. “But they told us ‘nobody can see you do this.”
Seven car washes have been organized and have won union contracts since the Wash NY campaign was launched more than two years ago to clean up the industry and improve conditions for the mostly immigrant workers who make minimum wage or less and work with potentially hazardous chemicals.
Prior to the hearing, City Council members Antonio Reynoso, Ritchie Torres and Carlos Menchacha, and dozens of car wash workers and supporters held a press briefing on the steps of City Hall to urge the committee to approve the Car Wash Accountability Act and send it to the full Council for a vote.
Public Advocate Scott Stringer sent a statement in support of the legislation, “which will ensure that employees at over 200 car washes throughout the five boroughs are protected from workplace hazards and are paid the full value of their work.”