Workers at the WCA Car Wash in Soundview in South Central Bronx, N.Y, voted unanimously to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Their victory builds on the momentum that has seen workers at seven New York City carwashes vote for a voice at work and two recent successful contract ratifications as part of the WASH New York campaign.
WCA Car Wash is owned by John Lage, who is by far the largest carwash owner in New York City, owning more than 20 carwashes in the metropolitan area. A recent report by RWDSU, New York Communities for Change (NYCC) and the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) found that businesses owned by Lage and his associates could generate as much as $34 million a year in revenue, while paying workers minimum wage salaries or less.
Omar Pineda, a 35-year-old carwashero from El Salvador, said:
Just as we won our election, we are going to win a just contract. We hope that with the union contract we will win the respect we deserve and some benefits as well, like a better salary, job security and protection against the chemicals.
RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said:
Across the city, carwash workers are standing up, speaking out and demanding that they be treated with dignity and respect. This is a building movement.
A recent WASH New York survey of 89 workers at 29 different carwashes found that more than 71% of the workers put in at least 60 hours a week—and some worked 105 hours a week. Despite the long hours, 75% of the workers didn’t get overtime pay for exceeding 40 hours. When workers did get overtime pay, it often was less than the legally mandated rate of time-and-a-half. Some 66% of the workers said they often received less than minimum wage. Only five workers said they were paid the difference to make minimum wage if their earnings with tips were less than the legal rate.
The New York victories follow wins at a trio of Southern California carwashes where workers have achieved union contracts with 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.