Car wash employees fight for minimum wage

Gazette photo by Katelyn Cordero
State legislators help wash cars outside the state Capitol this week to stand in solidarity with car wash employees who are fighting for minimum wage.

Legislators washed cars alongside carwasheros at the tail end of the legislative session to help build support for a bill that will grant minimum wage rights to carwash employees without tip credit.

Carwasheros are struggling to make ends meet on low wages and unsteady employment, said Hector Gerardo from the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union. After five years of fighting to pass this legislation, things are looking hopeful for Gerardo and the carwasheros. The Assembly passed the bill Monday afternoon and supporters are hopeful it will pass the Senate by Wednesday evening, before the legislative session ends for the year.

The bill (S.2664/A.2967) would require car wash owners to pay their employees minimum wage before tips. The current law allows car wash owners to use a tip credit, making up the difference between their tips and the state’s minimum hourly wage. However, according to the State Department of Labor, 79 percent of car wash owners do not pay minimum wage. Before tips carwasheros will receive around $7.35. According to the New York State Department of Labor, this is under the assumption that the workers make at least $2.35 an hour in tips which is often not the case.

Margareto Perez, a voice for his fellow carwasheros works in a car wash with around 20 men. At the end of the day there are often not enough tips for each person. Perez has seen some workers robbed of their tips by car wash owners, he says. According to the Department of Labor, in 2008, four out of every five car washes were stealing worker’s wages, making Perez and his colleagues’ situation very common.

“Many people don’t understand what we go through, they don’t get it,” said Perez. “Which is why this is so important to get our wages and do what’s fair.”

There are currently very few protocols in place to keep car wash operators in check. The
Association of Car Wash Owners has an internal compliance program, yet wage theft continues on a large scale in the industry, the workers say.

Assemblywoman Michelle Solages, D-Elmont, was among the group of legislators who spoke on behalf of the car wash workers.

“We go through our day to day activities without thinking about the people behind us who aid us in our world,” said Solages. “As a government official I do everything I can to pull people out of the shadows and getting a decent pay to workers so that they can support their families is what we need to do here in Albany.”