April 11, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Car wash workers struggling to transform an industry that has traditionally mistreated them are targeting millionaire mogul John Lage's pocketbood this week, and their ace in the hole could be arguably the most influential candidate in the race to succeed Mayor Mike Bloomberg. (Watch Video).
In an e-mail to LaborPress, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said, “Lage Car Wash is notorious for its repeated abuse of labor laws, and the City must immediately take action and reconsider doing business with them.”
According to a newly released report by Wash NY – the labor/community group coalition championing car wash workers – the City of New York paid Lage Car Wash, Inc. over a quarter-million-dollars to wash and buff NYPD and Department of Housing Preservation and Development vehicles between 2007 and 2013.
In the last three years, the report also found that Lage raked in at least another $135,924.99 for additional car wash services rendered. Another $37,789 also reportedly went to seven other entities controlled by Lage or partner Fernando Megalhaes.
Lage has a long history of labor violations and agreed to pay almost $5 million in fines after the U.S. Labor Department sued in 2005 charging that he and 15 of his companies “willfully and repeatedly” violated wage laws.
As recently as last year, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched a new investigation into Lage and his business practices.
Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU] President Stuart Appelbaum said that the new report is proof that Lage is unfair to workers and negatively impacts the communities where he operates.
“New York City should quickly take action and truly reconsider doing business with a company who operates in this manner,” Appelbaum said.
Two weeks ago, Quinn told cheering “washeros” at the Car Wash Workers General Assembly held on March 27, that her office was already taking steps to crack down on Lage and his “enormous contracts” with the city.
“That Lage car wash, we are reaching out right now to the city agencies that have contracts with them because we believe that their labor violations puts them in violation of their city contracts, which means the city agencies could cancel them immediately,” Quinn said.
Advocates say that workers at Lage’s car washes often work more than 50 hours a week for about $6 an hour without tips, or about $7.30 including tips, and including overtime.
At the same time, Lage reportedly owns a home in Mount Vernon, purchased in 2008 for $345,617, a waterfront home in Queens, estimated to be worth $1.49 million and a home in Eastchester, purchased for $1.9 million in 2002.
Over the last year, the Wash NY campaign has made history, pulling off a successful strike and organizing car wash workers into the union for the first time ever.
Hector Gómez, worked at Lage’s car wash in Soho until the owner sold the property and shuttered the establishment in February.
However, through the efforts of the Wash NY campaign, Gómez has since secured a new position at Sutphin Care Wash in Queens.
“We learned from the strike at Sunny Day [in The Bronx] and the struggle at Soho [in Manhattan] that we can defend our rights and win, and we are no longer going to accept mistreatment and poverty wages,” Gomez said. “Just think how much more we can win when all the car washes in New York City are organized and united.”