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A First in New York: Queens ‘Carwasheros’ Win First Contract

WASH New York photo

Workers at a Queens, N.Y., carwash are the first “carwasheros” east of Los Angeles to win a collective bargaining agreement. The new contract, announced Tuesday by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), is a part of the union movement’s continuing effort to bring workplace justice to low-wage immigrant workers.    

The new pact follows nearly a year of action by workers and their allies at Hi-Tek Car Wash and Lube after they voted to join the union. (Check out these photos of an August demonstration outside Hi-Tek.) 

Colombia native Omar Gomez, an oil change worker at Hi-Tek for 23 years, says:

I feel very happy that the union has signed a contract with our employer, which guarantees a higher salary and respect for workers. It will be better for our employer as well as the workers. With the help and support of the RWDSU, we have achieved something historic. I have been working here for a long time, and it fills me with satisfaction to know that the workers who come after me will have a union contract guaranteeing them a better quality of life.

The workers’ effort to win a voice was backed by the WASH New York campaign, a joint effort between Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change, and supported by the RWDSU.

The three-year agreement includes:

  • Four pay increases beginning June 3;
  • Paid breaks;
  • Language to ensure tips are shared fairly;
  • A grievance procedure, including the right to have a union representative present;
  • Up to four weeks unpaid leave to visit their home countries;
  • Employer-provided safety equipment. 

The new agreement also requires the employer to accommodate workers dealing with immigration issues, allowing workers to use personal days to deal with them.

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum says the win has “broad significance for all New Yorkers.”

It proves that low-wage immigrant workers are able and willing to stand up and fight for better lives through unionization. We congratulate these carwasheros for their courage in this fight. This contract sends a powerful message to other car wash and low-wage workers throughout New York City: You can fight back against poor wages and working conditions, and you can win by joining the RWDSU.

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento says the Hi-Tek workers “have demonstrated tremendous courage and determination.”

This campaign is a model for reaching out to traditionally unorganized sectors and sends a clear message that collective action is still the most effective way for workers to improve their working conditions and, in turn, their lives.

The New York victory follows wins at a trio of Southern California carwashes where workers have achieved union contracts with the United Steelworkers Local 675. In addition, carwash workers throughout the Los Angeles area have benefited as local and state officials have cracked down on safety, health, wage and other violations, and workers have become more aware of their rights. The same spillover effect is expected in New York, where there are about 500 carwashes with some 5,000 mostly immigrant workers.

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