May 25, 2012
Bronx Car Wash Workers File Lawsuits Against Employer
Immigrant workers at a Bronx car wash are suing their employer for unpaid wages and overtime.
The federal lawsuit is the first to be filed in conjunction with WASH New York, a campaign to clean up labor and safety problems in the car wash industry.
The campaign is moving into the Bronx after demonstrations in Manhattan and Queens.
Ten employees at Xcellent Car Wash on Jerome Ave. in Fordham are paid less than the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and routinely work more than 40 hours per week without proper overtime pay, their lawsuit claims.
It also claims that tips are stolen by managers and withheld to pay for damage to vehicles.
Lucas Mendoza, 25, said he earns $5.50 per hour and as little as $10 per day in tips. He works at Xcellent during the day and cleans a supermarket at night so he can support his wife in Mexico.
"We want a fair salary and we want our managers to not take our tips," Mendoza said Thursday through a translator.
Xcellent co-owner Patrick Yi attributed the suit to “misunderstandings” and vowed to compensate the workers for any unpaid overtime hours. Yi also said he expects the lawsuit to be dropped.
But WASH New York, a joint campaign of Make the Road, New York Communities for Change and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said the suit is moving forward.
Many car wash workers are underpaid and exposed to toxic chemicals without safety gear, according to WASH New York.
Xcellent workers often work without safety glasses and gloves, and the chemicals burn their arms, said Jose Sotelo, 34.
RWDSU hopes to unionize the workers, including many undocumented Latino immigrants.
"The business model has evolved to prey on the people least able to fight back," said Jon Kest, NYCC executive director.
"[The car wash owners] know very well that they have to comply with the wage laws" said Freddy Nunez, 30, a Salvadoran immigrant, through a translator. "But they think because we don't have papers we don't know anything."
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating John Lage, a car wash kingpin.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has called on the city to cancel more than $170,000 in contracts with Lage, and City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito has introduced legislation that would further regulate car washes.
The Xcellent workers are seeking back wages, better work conditions and the right to unionize.
Make the Road plans to file additional lawsuits against other car washes soon, said Deborah Axt, co-director. She called the Xcellent lawsuit "an opening salvo."
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