April 6, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – This morning, eight striking car wash workers at the Vegas Auto Spa in Park Slope are expected to return to work for the first time in four months.
After a relentless campaign in which organized labor worked in concert with an energized and motivated community, car wash owner Marat Leshehinsky has agreed to what is being described as a “landmark contract,” complete with strong worker protections and a $1,500 per-person signing bonus.
“We have the best contract that we could have possibly wanted,” community organizer Rocio Valerio-Gonzalez told LaborPress. “I think it shows all we needed was community support.”
The two-year-agreement promises “car washeros” higher wages, overtime, more paid time off and grievance procedure, as well as other protections.
“This is a perfect example of what can happen when courageous workers stick together in the face of adversity,” Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Applebaum said in a statement.“These brave car washeros spent four months on the picket line, without an income, in a very cold winter. They understand the difference being in a union can make, and I am proud they are part of the RWDSU.”
The car wash industry is notoriously exploitive, but in the last three years, the Wash New York Campaign, has successfully negotiated nine contracts at businesses located around the city.
A New York City Department of Labor investigation recently found that about 80 percent of the roughly 200 car washes located throughout the five boroughs are guilty of wage and hour violations.
Leshehinsky’s decision to deal closely followed on the heels of a large rally and demonstration in support of the Vegas Auto Spa workers held in early March, in which low-wage workers from unrelated industries also took part. The same demonstration also prompted the temporary closure of the business and ended in the arrests of several union leaders and members of the New York City Council.
“The most important thing that the car washeros were fighting for was respect and dignity on the worksite and representation from the union,” Valerio-Gonzalez said.
With many more exploitive car washes still operating around the city, the RWDSU, working in conjunction with the Wash New York campaign, has no intention of easing up on the gas.
At the same time, Valerio-Gonzalez said that returning car wash workers and their union will now devote as much energy boosting Vegas Auto Spa, as they did fighting for a contract.
“With this new contract secured, I’ll be proud to take my car to Vegas Auto Spa, and show that I support businesses that do what is right for their workers,” Councilman Brad Lander [D-39th District] said in a statement. “I plan on getting my spring car wash done at Vegas Auto Spa, and I hope all of Park Slope will join me.”