December 13, 2012
By Joe Maniscalco
There's no quit in the Sunny Day Car Wash "washeros."
Despite being canned last month for protesting "theft of wages" and poor working conditions at the Bronx car, the largely Latino employees have retained their cohesion and officially voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) this week.
“Sometimes we work twelve hours a day, six days a week," Sunny Day "washeros" Juan Campis said. "Our base wage is below minimum wage. The conditions are bad. I got tired and told my fellow workers it’s time to stop this. So, we got together with the union to say that it can and should be better.”
The "washeros" continue to picket outside of the Sunny Day Car Wash, located at East 135th Street and Lincoln Avenue, but the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has yet to conclude its investigating into whether or not owner Frank Roman illegally terminated his workers.
Even if the feds find in their favor, it remains unclear if the workers will be hired back. Theoretically, the case could go all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
Until this year, none of the roughly 200 car washes located throughout New York were organized. The Sunny Day Car Wash vote now potentially brings that number to five. The vote is actually being contested, and still must stand up to NLRB scrutiny.
Nevertheless, Deborah Axt, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, one the grassroots organizations supporting the Sunny Day "washeros" through the WASH New York campaign to clean up the industry, said that this week's vote is a wake-up call for both low-wage workers and employers throughout the city.
"Workers in this city will not stay silent in the face of abuse, wage theft, and mistreatment," Axt said. "They deserve fairness and a voice on the job, and are fighting for it."
The car wash industry in New York is notorious for abusing its workers. Four years ago, state investigators uncovered pervasive labor law violations involving almost 1400 employees who were shorted a staggering $6.5 million in wages. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman continues to probe the industry for further evidence of abuse.
“Car wash workers across the city have had enough and are fighting back against abusive conditions,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said. “The Sunny Day workers are part of a growing movement of car wash workers in New York City. Their courage and determination are an inspiration to other workers in this industry.”
A recent WASH New York survey of 89 workers at 29 different car washes found that more than 71 percent of the workers put in at least 60 hours a week – and some worked 105 hours a week. Despite that, nearly 75 percent of the workers didn’t get paid overtime for working more than 40 hours.
“Yesterday, workers at Sunny Day Car Wash in the Bronx stood up for their rights against enormous odds and won," said New York Communities for Change Organizing Director Jonathan Westin. "Today’s incredible victory is proof-positive of what workers can accomplish when they are united and is the perfect symbol of the growing movement for low-wage worker justice throughout New York City."