Workers have rights. In the United States they have them regardless of whether they’re in the country legally or not, speak English or not, are educated or not.
But often those rights are denied, to illegal, non-English speaking, uneducated workers in particular. It goes on in many sectors, but among the most egregious is the car wash industry.
Workers often put in far more than 40 hours a week, sometimes twice that much, without overtime pay. They work for less than the minimum wage. Managers make them fork over their tips so they can take a cut. One Queens car wash owner was forced to pay his employees $3.4 million in back pay and damages three years ago after a federal suit. A 2008 state probe found numerous violations in the industry.
But now the tide is turning in the workers’ favor at last. Over the last two months, employees at four car washes across the city, including two in Queens, have won legal protections for themselves by joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, RWDSU. No longer will they be treated as third-class citizens by their bosses.
Might it cost a little bit more now to get your car washed at one of the four businesses? Sure. A little. Is it well worth it to know their employees are getting fair wages and things like safety training around some very hazardous equipment? We think so, and hope you do too.