By Sadef Ali Kully
Nine workers at a busy Queens car wash off Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica have filed suit against the car wash and the owner for what they contend are wage and hour violations totaling about $400,000 in unpaid income.
The suit was filed in federal court in Brooklyn July 29 against Merrick Magic Enterprises Inc., a company in Woodbury; A.J.A. Car Wash Inc., operated as Magic Wash and Lube located at 107-05 Merrick Blvd.; and owner Jasbir Obhan. It said the workers, some of whom have worked there for decades, are still paid below the minimum wage—as little as $6 and $7 an hour—and do not receive overtime pay, even though they are on the job 60 to 70 hours a week or more.
The suit claims that Merrick Magic Enterprises Inc. is the name that appears on the carwash employees’ checks and the company falsified their paystubs.
The suit says the car wash improperly doled out tips, failed to provide records such as pay stubs, and did not pay workers any wages when they reported to their jobs but were sent home due to inclement weather.
Timesledger made repeated efforts to contact legal representatives for Magic Wash and Lube car wash but did not get a response.
Lawyers for the workers from Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group, and labor law firm Cohen, Weiss and Simon LLP, said Obhan was named in the suit because he “maintained operational control” over the workers and “had the power to stop” the illegal pay practices. The suit says that until early this year, the workers received a payroll stub that low-balled their hours and wages. Now, they no longer get pay stubs but are paid by check and cash.
“Throughout the time I have worked there, there have been very difficult times because I have a 7-year-old son and family to support with such low wages living in such an expensive city,” said Miguel Yax, 34, of Queens, who has worked at A.J.A. Car Wash for more than 15 years and is still earning below the minimum wage.
“I generally work six days a week for over 70 hours a week, but the boss doesn’t pay us any overtime. I hope that my co-workers and I are able to get all of the wages our boss stole from us,” Yax said.
Andres Pu, 52, has worked at A.J.A. for more than 10 years.
“I still make less than the minimum wage and don’t get overtime,” he said. “I have three kids and I feel very tired because I work so much in order to survive. I have lived in Queens for more than 10 years and it’s hard for me to pay rent and support my family with such illegally low wages. I am hopeful that we will reach a fair solution.”
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said, “This is validation of the need for carwash workers to organize.”
The WASH New York car wash campaign, a collaboration of New York Communities for Change, Make the Road New York and supported by the retail workers union, was launched more than three years ago. Since then, nine shops have voted to join the RWDSU and have signed contracts.
Last month, the city and mayor passed the Car Wash Accountability Act, which requires car washes to be licensed and post surety bonds, and which contains worker protections. The law take is to take effect at the end of the year
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull