March 6, 2012
Car wash workers endure mistreatment, report says
Car wash workers in New York are routinely denied overtime, exposed to toxic chemicals and receive less than minimum wage, according to a report unveiled Tuesday.
Labor advocates [led by Make the Road NY] are pushing for industry-wide reform — a campaign that includes the call to unionize workers, mostly undocumented Latino immigrants.
The report commissioned by WASH New York, a coalition of labor and community groups, is based on interviews with 89 workers at 29 car washes around the city. Not one of the employees interviewed said they got sick time and only one was offered any sort of employer-sponsored health plan, the report stated.
It’s not a few bad apples, it’s citywide,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store union, which helped launch the campaign.
Dozens of workers and their supporters, some hoisting signs that read “this store steals workers’ wages” and “give us back our money,” rallied Tuesday in front of Metro Car Wash in Rego Park.
Car wash worker David de la Cruz Perez recounted tales of mistreatment — and in his case physical injury.
Perez immigrated from Guatemala five years ago and found work at Sutphin Boulevard Car Wash in Jamaica, he said. While adjusting the car wash track one day, his boss turned on the machine, crushing his hand and causing nerve damage, Perez said.
He ignored his throbbing hand as he finished his 12-hour shift, Perez said, and was forced to miss six months of work without compensation.
“It still hurts a lot every day,” he said through a translator.
Sutphin Boulevard Car Wash management did not return a call seeking comment.
Paulino Cabrera, manager at LMC Car Wash in East Harlem, another business charged with unfair labor practices, said his company treats workers fairly. All workers are offered lunch and coffee breaks as well as proper protective gear, he said.
“Ask my employees over here,” he said. Providing protective gear “is part of the company.”
Other allegations in the report included managers docking employees’ tips for minor offenses, employees being forced to buy their own safety equipment and verbal harassment by higher-ups.
The report, commissioned jointly with community groups Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change, recommends stricter industry oversight and an easier path to unionization.
“Today the struggling begins,” said Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council. “But we will be with you through this battle.”
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