March 15, 2012
East Harlem car wash workers to confront owner over conditions and pay
A car wash kingpin is set to be at the center of a confrontation with dozens of disgruntled East Harlem workers and advocates [led by Make the Road New York] hoping to powerwash his dirty treatment of employees.
The group is hoping for a noon showdown Friday with mogul John Lage at LMC Car Wash on E. 109th St. and First Ave.
"Lage has a long history off mistreating workers, but clearly has the resources to do a better job," said Jon Kest, director of New York Communities for Change (NYCC), one of the groups that organized the meet-up.
"We're going to give him a chance to improve working conditions and do the right thing," said Kest.
Lage owns more than a dozen car washes around the city and is considered one of the worst offenders when it comes to taking care of his employees, said Kest.
In 2009, Lage was ordered by the Federal Dept. of Labor to pay more than $3 million in back wages to employees.
Workers at Lage's East Harlem car wash said they are paid below minimum wage; forced to work long hours without overtime, and are exposed to dangerous chemicals.
LMC worker Edileberto Rojas-Rosas said conditions at the East Harlem facility are intolerable.
“"The managers don't treat us like human beings,” said Rojas-Rosas.
Rojas-Rosad still earns $5.25 an hour - $2 less than minimum wage - even though he has workd there six years.
"I don't even know how healthy my lungs are right now because I've been breathing in those chemicals so long,” said the father of two daughters.
Lage’s lawyer, Dennis Lalli, said his client would not respond to the allegations at this point.
“It’s not the right time for him to speak publicly about this,” said Lalli
A recent report by WASH New York (Workers Alligned for Sustainable and Healthy New York) revealed a broad mistreatment of car wash employees across the city.
The report found that 66% of car wash workers are being paid below minimum wage and forced to work up to 105 hours a week.
The push to reform the car wash industry is being spearheaded by Kest’s group; Make the Road NY; and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
Most LMC car wash customers declined to comment on the working conditions Thursday. One man waiting for his construction van while it was being washed seemed surprised when told about the workers’ plight.
"It's messed up how they treat them,” he said, “ but what can we do about it?"
City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem) said the word needs to get out about city car wash working condition.
"We need to get this information out and expose the working conditions and wages," said Mark-Viverito. "It tales a lot of courage to stand in public and say what they're being put through."
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