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MRNY Celebrates Breakthrough in Car Wash Organizing Campaign

Make the Road NY May 31

New York, NY (May 29, 2013) – Workers at the Hi-Tek Car Wash & Lube in Queens have made history by voting to ratify the first union contract of any car wash in New York City. The three-year contract caps the workers' 10-month campaign for union representation by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). This is the first car wash contract in the United States anywhere east of Los Angeles.

It was a major victory for the workers and significant turning point for the WASH New York campaign, a joint effort between Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change and supported by the RWDSU.

The campaign was launched last year to fight widespread mistreatment in the car wash industry. In September 2012, Hi-Tek workers became the first location in NYC to vote to unionize in an effort to improve their working conditions.

"I feel very happy that the union has signed a contract with our employer which guarantees a higher salary and respect for workers," said Colombian native Omar Gomez, an oil change worker at Hi-Tek Car Wash for 23 years. "It will be better for our employer as well as the workers. With the help and support of the RWDSU, we have achieved something historic. I have been working here for a long time, and it fills me with satisfaction to know that the workers who come after me will have a union contract guaranteeing them a better quality of life."

"Carwasheros all over New York City continue to build momentum for their work to bring this industry into line, to end exploitation and abuse in car wash work," said Deborah Axt, co-executive director of Make the Road New York.

"Make the Road calls on the thousands of supporters for this campaign to now support Hi-Tek on Astoria Boulevard," Axt said. "We congratulate the workers for their courage and persistence and Gary Pinkus and management of Hi-Tek for being the first car wash in the city to step up and start making meaningful improvements in wages and working conditions."

"I feel grateful for everything we have achieved," said Heriberto Hernandez, a 35-year-old Mexican immigrant who works at Hi-Tek and has been one of the first leaders in the car wash campaign. "It hasn't been easy, and I am very happy because we have fought for this for a long time and today we are seeing the results," he added. "We hope this represents a turning point and that things will be different at the car wash from now on. Most importantly, we hope this serves as an example for other workers who are being exploited, that they can stand up for themselves too and fight for a better life. I'm so pleased to have been part of this campaign; it's something I will be proud to tell my children."

Highlights of the new 3-year deal, which takes effect June 3, 2013, include:

  • On that day, the current wage rate of $5.65 (before tips) will be increased for all workers by 28 cents immediately. Wages will increase again at the end of 2013, 2014 and 2015, bringing the minimum rate to $9.18 including tips in the final year of the pact.
  • Establishment of a grievance procedure which gives workers the right to have representation by a steward or union rep when dealing with discipline.
  • Workers will have a schedule posted each week and the employer will distribute hours and overtime fairly and equally. Workers will have 5 paid sick days per year (which can also be used as vacation days) and 2 paid personal days. Workers will also be able to take unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, bereavement, weddings and to visit their home countries.
  • There also is language limiting the use of part-timers, protecting immigrant workers and expanding protections against discrimination. The employer agrees to accommodate workers dealing with immigration issues allowing workers to use personal days to deal with immigration issues.

"This car wash contract has broad significance for all New Yorkers. It proves that low-wage immigrant workers are able and willing to stand up and fight for better lives through unionization," said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. "We congratulate these carwasheros for their courage in this fight. This contract sends a powerful message to other car wash and low wage workers throughout New York City: You can fight back against poor wages and working conditions, and you can win by joining the RWDSU."

There are some 200 car washes in New York City, with an estimated 5,000 employees, mostly immigrants who are paid low wages and often denied overtime, to which they are entitled by law.

The campaign has already scored several important victories. The RWDSU has won six National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) car wash elections to unionize throughout New York City, and the campaign has won a successful strike at the Sunny Day Car Wash in the Bronx, saved the jobs of workers at the Soho Car Wash and has brought about significant change in how workers are treated, even at washes the union hasn't yet organized.

"We congratulate the brave 'carwasheros' at Hi-Tek — and the company's owners — for making history by agreeing to the first car wash contract in New York City," said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change. "This contract could be a blueprint for the industry here in New York and across the country — and it shows what can be accomplished when workers come together despite overwhelming odds."

This press release was distributed by Make the Road NY.

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