Car wash workers win Elmhurst strike

By Bill Parry

A weeklong strike by workers at an Elmhurst car wash has come to an end with union organizers claiming victory.

The 16 self-proclaimed “carwasheros” reached an agreement with Off Broadway Car Wash owner David Amar, who promised to restore their schedules, pay the full amount the workers are due and begin negotiations with the union for a fair contract.

“We came to a mutual agreement and they met all our demands and we went back to work,” UFCW Local 78 Organizer David Jimenez said. “We thank the neighbors that boycotted and shut the business down, but now people should come back and get there cars washed.”

Off Broadway Car Wash, located at 42-08 80th St., is among eight car wash operations citywide that the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union have organized over the last two years, but they were the only ones to strike. T Worker’s pay at Off Broadway was increased from $4 per hour to $6.25 per hour when they voted to unionize in November 2013, but then owner, David Amar, cut their hours and the workers voted to strike.

“He was giving them less than 40 hours a week. He gave them just seven hours a day without telling the union, and that’s against the law,” Rocio Valerio-Gonzalez, a community organizer said, said.

Three elected officials supported the workers, rallying with them on the first day of the strike.

“When the workers saw Jose Peralta, Francisco Moya and Daniel Dromm stand with them, their morale was boosted,” Jesus Gonzalez, of RWDSU Local 78, said. “What the workers did was courageous and support from government officials gave them strength, it let them know that they mattered.”

Gonzalez added that they were particularly inspired by a speech made by Peralta, a Democratic state senator representing the Jackson Heights area, who said, “We’re standing here in solidarity with these workers because their labors have dignity, their efforts feed, clothe and shelter families. Unless, of course, they don’t get paid. Then there is no dignity, there is no food or clothing or money to pay the rent. There is only abuse and exploitation and, unfortunately, abuse and exploitation is all too common in the car wash industry.”

Stephen Hans, the attorney representing Amar, saw things differently.

“The union shrouds their pitch and their claim that the workers are economically abused because they’re immigrants who don’t speak English,” Hans said. “We’ve always been prepared to negotiate but the union is in a very aggressive mode and it’s difficult to negotiate when one side is militant. The problem with striking is no one gets paid.”

When he heard there was a settlement and the workers were back at work, Peralta said, “I applaud the workers for their courage in standing up to the bullying and abuse and congratulate them on their hard-fought victory. I couldn’t be happier for them and their families.”

“Commencing negotiations was a crucial victory for the carwasheros at Off Broadway,” said Moya , a Democratic state assemblyman whose office is in Jackson Heights. “I was proud to assist them achieving that victory and will support them in their quest for higher wages.”

Dromm, who also voiced his support for the workers, is the Democratic city councilman for the area.

The manager inside the car wash refused to comment about the return of the workers, but an unidentified man at the cash register said, “It’s great to be back. I was getting bored at home.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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