February 6, 2013
Marc Bussanich and Joe Maniscalco
Three months after car wash workers at Lage Car Wash in SoHo joined the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the owner abruptly informed the union last week that he will be shutting down the car wash on February 22. Read More and Watch Video
RWDSU has been successfully organizing car wash workers who work long hours for little pay. But the decision by John Lage, owner of the SoHo facility and multiple car washes around the city, represents a significant setback to the workers and the campaign that so far has organized four other car wash facilities. Working with Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change, the union spearheaded the Wash NY campaign to improve the working conditions of the mostly immigrant workforce.
According to the union, Lage’s attorneys notified the union on February 1 that the property is being sold to a developer. While the union decries the move, Lage claims the sale was completed before the workers voted for union representation on November 21.
David Mertz, a RWDSU organizer, said Lage didn’t give any indication to the workers that he planned to sell the site.
“Some of these workers have been working here for seven or more years and they’ve been loyal. They feel the least he [Lage] could have done was to talk with them about his intentions,” said Mertz.
One worker through an interpreter said he was shocked when he learned of the sale.
“We never thought this was going to happen. We never thought we were going to lose our jobs. I’ve been working here for seven years and not even a thank you. I’m pissed that this is happening.”
Despite the setback for the workers at Lage Car Wash, Mertz noted that low-wage workers need to continue to organize to better their economic conditions.
“What it comes down to is that they’ll be at the mercy of employers like John Lage unless they organize. No worker on their own can match the power of a Lage. It’s only by organizing do they stand a chance.”
The union is demanding that Lage offer the workers jobs at other locations he owns.