Low-Wage Earners Joining Forces To Confront Workplace Injustice

March 6, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco

Low-wage workers and supporters on the march in Brooklyn.

Low-wage workers and supporters on the march in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn, NY – This week’s march in support of striking car washeros at the Vegas Auto Spa in Park Slope was notable for more than the arrest of the UFCW leadership and a couple of council members – it also served to demonstrate the kind of solidarity amongst different kinds of low-wage earners that could soon prove to be an unstoppable force in the fight for workplace justice.

Rather than seeing their struggle against car wash owner Marat Leshehinsky as a singular endeavor, "car washeros" out of work for almost four months, heard from others low-wage earners — including airport employees and fast food workers — who equated their fight to the overall fight of struggling workers throughout New York City and across the country. 

“One of the reasons we are here is to tell the cash washeros that you are not alone,” said Juan Chapman, a security officer at LaGuardia Airport. “We are here, and we are going to unite forces. We the workers have power that sometimes we don’t even know about.”

Jose Sanchez, a Domino’s Pizza employee fighting to lift the wages of fast food workers, also empathized with the car washeros, and exhorted them to stay strong and united. 

“This is definitely a struggle that we are going to win,” Sanchez said.

Councilman Brad Lander [D-39th District], meanwhile, reminded car washeros in Park Slope that Cablevision workers in another part of Brooklyn recently won their three-year fight with media mogul Jim Dolan for better wages and workplace protections.

Stuart Appelbaum rallies car washeros.

Stuart Appelbaum rallies car washeros.

“Like the car washeros, they stood strong,” Councilman Lander said. “Like these car washeros, the rest of the justice and labor community came behind them, and last month, after three years, they won. They got their raise, they got their union, and they got their dignity.”

RWDSU President and UFCW Executive Vice-President Stuart Appelbaum, attributed the plight of many low-wage earners to unscrupulous business owners taking advantage of workers and their immigration status. 

“Their wages are stolen, their tips are stolen, their dignity is being denied,” Applebaum said. “And the only way about to do something about it, is for people to come together with a collective voice. That is what we are doing today.”

RWDSU organizer Phil Andrews told LaborPress that more joint actions involving low-wage workers from different industries are, indeed, coming. 

“What we are doing here today is supporting car wash workers, but we have all kinds of workers here, from airport workers to fast food workers, and there are going to be many more activities coming up where worker solidarity between different unions is going to be the whole idea,” Andrews said. “There’s a whole movement, retail workers, car wash workers, and low-wage workers of all kinds trying to push up working standards for everybody.”

Low-wage earners are joining forces for workplace justice.

Low-wage earners are joining forces for workplace justice.

Although initially small in number, the fight for low-wage car washeros has garnered the attention of the entire New York City labor community. 

“We stand in solidarity with you in the fight for rights on the job, for benefits, and for the protections that each and every one of you deserves,” New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez said. “We are standing with you as long as it takes. Believe me when I tell you that the struggle and the fight for workers throughout this county is reaching a critical phase.”

March 5, 2015

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