September 13, 2012 9:15 am
The immigrant organizing movement is gathering momentum in New York City! Late last week, workers at Hot & Crusty Cafe faced down powerful owners and won the right to union recognition for current and future employees. They also won control of the hiring process following a lockout and innovative, long storefront protest.
On Sunday, workers at the Astoria Car Wash and Hi-Tek 10 Minute Lube Inc. (“Astoria”), in Queens, voted 21 to five to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, marking the first time a car wash has successfully organized in New York.
Unions are quickly adjusting to serving the needs of immigrant communities, recognizing that immigrant and undocumented workers will play a huge part in the future of organized labor in America. As with Hot & Crusty, the organizing drive was a joint effort between traditional organized labor and community activism.
The successful union election follows July’s class-action lawsuit against the Queens carwash for rampant wage and overtime violations. The advocacy group Make the Road New York has been working with New York Communities and Change on the lawsuits, and to bring systemic change to the abusive car wash industry in NYC through their WASH NYC campaign. In so doing, they are following in the footsteps of similar efforts in Los Angeles. (The first ever union contract was signed at a car wash in Los Angeles late last year. In early February, about 60 carwashes in Los Angeles were covered by union contracts, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the United Steelworkers-affilated workers, “the future of the labor movement.”)
Speaking on the Los Angeles organizing movement, Bob LaVenture, director of the United Steelworkers Union District 12, told Huffington Post: “I can’t recall a group of workers that have been so exploited and so much fear and so many threats of physical violence.”
In New York, it’s no different. A broad investigation conducted by WASH NYC yielded stunning findings:
Over 71 percent of the workers were on the job for at least 60 hours a week, with some working as high as 105 hours. Despite the long hours, 75 percent of the workers didn’t receive any kind of overtime pay for exceeding 40 hours. When workers did get overtime pay, it was often less than the legally mandated rate of time-and-a-half.
The state’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, but 66 percent of the workers reported being paid less than that at times. Only five workers reported that they were paid the difference to make minimum wage if their earnings with tips were less than the legal rate.
The New York Daily News reports on a worker’s reaction from Queens:
Fellow worker Juan Antonio, 29, said he’s hoping to make more than the $5.65 an hour he now earns shampooing interiors and drying cars. He makes below the minimum wage because he earns tips — but such gratuities are unsteady, he said.
“I hope that all of this is for the best,” he said. “(The vote) was a triumph for us. … The boss didn’t want to give us anything. He needs to pay what we are legally owed – and treat us well.”
Emphatically agreed. Carwasheros Unite!
Image from here