Last week, hundreds of car wash workers and community and worker activists joined together at Guttman College in Manhattan for the Third Annual Car Wash Workers Assembly. The workers gathered to celebrate the most recent successes of the three-year old WASH NY campaign – including the victory at Vegas Auto Spa in Brooklyn, where workers recently won a fair contract after being on strike for months, and the passage of the Car Wash Accountability Act. The Car Wash Accountability Act gives the city regulatory power over the car wash industry for the first time. The law also requires car washes in NYC to obtain a license to do business, obey environmental guidelines, and obtain a bond to protect workers and consumers.
The WASH NY campaign – which is supported by community groups Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change, and the RWDSU – has helped improve car wash jobs in New York City. “We are committed to continuing this fight for low wage and immigrant workers – to organize and improve conditions, to reform an industry that for too long has operated in the shadows and to help build a city where no worker should have to live in poverty,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum.
“Thanks to the courageous work of the carwasheros – along with the union and Make the Road NY and New York Communities for Change – workers have power. Real power,” Appelbaum added.
Among the supporters of New York City’s car wash workers are many elected officials. New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York City Councilmen Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca, and New York City Public Advocate Letitia “Tish” James were all on hand to celebrate the workers’ accomplishments. They were recognized with awards for their support of car wash workers and for the passage of the Car Wash Accountability Act.
“When I started working at the car wash, conditions were terrible. There was theft of tips, and no dignity or respect at work. When we heard about this campaign – that workers were fighting for their rights around New York City – and we thought, if others can win, we can too,” said Miguel Portillo, a carwashero at Jomar Car Wash in Queens.”
“And we did win. We won a union, we won a contract, and we won higher wages, paid breaks, and training for the chemicals we work with. But most importantly, we won respect,” Portillo added.
By standing together and winning a union voice with the RWDSU, the workers have proven that change is within reach for all working New Yorkers.
“Today is a new day, a day that points to a brighter future for low wage workers as a whole. The carwasheros have demonstrated when workers have the RWDSU on their side, when they have community leaders, elected officials and faith groups on their side, they have partners that will stand with them all the way to the finish line,” said RWDSU Recorder and Organizing Coordinator Joseph Dorismond. “They are making a statement that no matter what you do for a living, and regardless of your documentation status, you deserve to be treated like a human being.”