April 1, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY - This week, NYC’s hardworking “washeros” celebrated a historic year fighting for workplace justice at car washes throughout the five boroughs - and they’re vowing not to quit now. (Watch Video)
“We have to keep fighting and support each other in the struggle,” Claudio Garcia told a packed house at the Car Wash Workers General Assembly held on Wednesday night.
Over the last year, the Wash New York campaign - comprised of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU], Make the Road New York [MRNY] and New York Communities for Change [NYCC] - scored five winning union elections. They also staged a successful strike in the Bronx, secured new jobs for workers after their employer closed up shop in Soho, and helped broker a deal to bring paid sick days to not only their members, but to about a million other New Yorkers as well.
“Against all odds, through the power of organizing and people working together in collective action, we have ignited a movement for low-wage workers and transformed the labor movement in New York City,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said.
The RWDSU chief also praised the “washeros” for their courage standing up for their rights in an industry notorious for mistreating its workers.
“Your courage sends a powerful message to other car wash and low-wage workers,” Appelbaum said. “You have told all of the city that you can fight back against poor wages and working conditions, and you can win. Tonight, celebrate everything we have won so far. We are just getting started.”
Appelbaum, along with New York City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, also put car wash owners - particularly car wash mogul John Lage - on notice that the Wash NY campaign is determined to build on its remarkable string of successes.
“Our goal is to continue carrying out even bigger and stronger actions to pressure the bosses to do the right thing,” Appelbaum said. “Car wash workers are declaring loud and clear that the old way of doing business is over. And to the car wash bosses who continue to stand in the way of progress, we have one thing to say: Expect us at a car wash near you.”
Quinn blasted Lage, saying that the only thing bigger than his lucrative contracts with the city, are his many labor violations.
“We believe their labor violations puts them in violation of their city contracts, which mean that the city agencies could cancel them immediately,” Quinn said.
The would-be mayor also lauded car wash workers for having the courage of their convictions.
“What you have done at the car washes where you work is difficult,” Quinn said. “It’s dangerous. It can put your job and the income for your family at risk. It is incredibly brave. The kind of bravery that many of us aren’t able to exhibit.”
In addition to paid sick days, car wash workers say they will continue to fight for employment protection, health care, better wages, vacation time and safeguards against owners dipping into their tips.
“Just imagine what our jobs will be like with a contract,” one car wash worker said.
Veteran car wash worker Antonio Flores said he is “willing to strike and protest and do everything necessary” for better working conditions.
Appelbaum and the rest of the Wash New York campaign is now hoping that the strides made over the last year, will inspire other “washeros” throughout NYC to say yes to unionization.
“We call all car “washeros” from all over New York to action to launch the next stage of the campaign,” Appelbaum said. “After one year, we know that with unity lies power. When we organize, we win. When we unite, we win.”