By Gina Martinez
Flushing car wash workers, frustrated with the owners’ refusal to negotiate a new contract, went on strike Sunday.
The workers, also known as “Carwasheros,” chanted and waved picket signs in front of their job site at Main Street Car Wash, located at 57-34 Main St. They had the support of community members, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, members of New York Communities for Change and Make the Road New York.
They joined workers at Cross Bronx Car Wash in the Bronx, who went on strike last month and were locked out for two days. According to the union, the new strike comes as car wash owners become more emboldened by Trump-era hostility against workers, unions and immigrants.
According to strikers, owners in the industry want to eliminate overtime and hire part-timers. Carwasheros earn a sub-minimum wage and rely on tips from customers and 50-to-60-hour work weeks just to make ends meet.
The workers at the Flushing location are members of the RWDSU. The Car Wash Campaign is an effort by Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change and supported by the RWDSU that was launched more than five years ago.
State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Flushing) joined the striking workers on Sunday and lent her support.
“The Main Street Car Wash workers have been providing an important service to the community for years, and it is important that their rights and working standards are held high,” Rozic said. “These workers deserve a fair contract with conditions that guarantee hours and provide a living wage, and I will continue to stand with them until that occurs.”
Chelsea Connor, spokeswoman for RWDSU, said the strike is not just about benefits and wage increases, but also about respect. A lot of workers are immigrants who come from communities where their needs are not being heard. These workers want a voice and fair treatment, she said. According to Connor, the strike will continue as long as it takes. They have yet to hear from owners, but she hopes talks will begin soon.
“The issue with wages is really about scheduling in that the business is scheduling workers for less than full-time hours and bringing in more part-time workers,” she said. “When this happens, workers are not able to make ends meet. The other issue is that car wash workers earn less than the minimum wage due to a loophole in Albany which allows the business to use tips to make up wages for workers.”
According to RWDSU, the passage of a new bill, S.2664, would create a simplified wage structure and prevent workers’ wages from being stolen. The legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman Francisco P. Moya (D- Jackson Heights) would require that car wash workers be paid the full minimum wage and no longer rely on customers to subsidize their wages with tips. The bill removes car wash workers from the Miscellaneous Industry Wage Order, and would make it easier for workers to predict their weekly pay. It also would allow employers to more easily maintain records of their payroll.
In the meantime, it is business-as-usual at Main Street Car Wash. The business has hired workers brought in to replace those who are currently on strike. As of Tuesday, there had been no negotiations.
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart