September 9, 2012
Workers at Queens car wash form the city's first car washers union
'Carwasheros' say they are underpaid, badly treated, and can lose a whole day's pay if business is slow
Workers at a Queens car wash became the first in the city to unionize this weekend, hoping to combat what they say are low pay and poor working conditions.
Immigrant “carwasheros” at Hi-Tek Car Wash & Lube Inc. in Elmhurst voted 21 to 5 Saturday to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
“This is a huge victory for us,” said Tara Martin, a spokesperson for the labor group.
Workers who voted for the union said they want better wages and steady hours in an industry where car wash managers often send them home without pay on slow days.
“The treatment from the bosses isn’t what we deserve,” said Antonio Flores [member of Make the Road new York], 43, a Salvadoran immigrant who has worked at Hi-Tek for more than 10 years.
“They don’t pay us what they should. ... We want to have something better, more benefits. We’re hoping that this will now change,” Flores said.
Fellow worker Juan Antonio [member of Make the Road New York], 29, said he’s hoping to make more than the $5.65 an hour he now earns shampooing interiors and drying cars.
He makes below the minimum wage because he earns tips — but such gratuities are unsteady, he said.
“I hope that all of this is for the best,” he said. “(The vote) was a triumph for us. ... The boss didn’t want to give us anything. He needs to pay what we are legally owed - and treat us well.”
Fifteen of the workers had sued their boss in federal court this summer, saying they are owed unpaid wages. The suit is pending.
Hi-Tek owner Gary Pinkus did not return calls for comment Sunday.
Earlier this summer, he assured the News he paid workers properly at his Queens and Brooklyn Hi-Tek washes and said union organizers were “brainwashing employees.”
The Queens wash is now the fourth in the nation to unionize — and the first east of Los Angeles.
The union victory comes after months of rallies and lawsuits by car wash employees across the city — many of them undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America.
“I think we’re seeing low wage workers throughout the city organizing,” said Jon Kest of New York Communities for Change.
His group, along with nonprofit Make the Road New York, is running a campaign to boost workers’ rights called WASH New York.
Earlier this summer, WASH New York surveyed workers at nearly 200 car washes across the city and found two-thirds reported being paid less than minimum wage at times. Some earned just $125 a week.
“It really does speak to a different day starting to emerge in New York where low wage immigrant workers are standing up and fighting back,” Kest said.
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