Car Wash Workers Make History, Vote to Go Union
Six months after the launch of a citywide campaign to organize car wash workers, employees at Astoria Car Wash & Hi-Tek 10 Minute Lube voted by a four-to-one margin to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The vote, announced September 9, 2012, was the first time any US car wash workers have unionized east of Los Angeles, where car wash workers have had some organizing victories.
Key to the organizing drive’s success was the collaboration between the union and two community organizing groups. The WASH New York campaign, a joint effort between Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change and supported by the RWDSU, was launched earlier this year to fight against widespread mistreatment in the car wash industry, A recent WASH New York survey of 89 workers at 29 different car washes found that more than 71% of the workers put in at least 60 hours a week – and some worked 105 hours a week. Despite the long hours, 75% of the workers didn’t get overtime pay for exceeding a 40-hour work week. Some 66% of the workers said they often received less than the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Workers Win at Hot and Crusty
Workers at the Hot & Crusty Bakery located at 63rd Street and 2nd Avenue faced a bleak situation on August 31, 2012. In May, 2012, they won a hotly contested union drive, but the store’s owner, hedge fund manager Mark Samson, announced in August that the store would close – a move that the workers saw as direct retaliation.
But on September 8, 2012 the workers’ union, the Hot and Crusty Workers Association, announced that they had won a sweeping victory. “After a workplace occupation, a week of targeted direct action, round-the-clock picketing and an outpouring of community support,” the union said, it had won an agreement for immediate union recognition, the start of negotiations on a first contract, and a reopening of the shuttered bakery.
Perhaps even more impressive, the store’s new owners, who had purchased it after the shutdown, have agreed to “the institution of a hiring hall through which all employees must be referred by the Hot and Crusty Workers Association.”
Organizing with support from Occupy Wall Street and the volunteer-based Laundry Workers’ Center, the Hot and Crusty employees had shown repeatedly that they were willing to act in defense of their rights.
The day the store closed, they occupied the site for several hours. Several supporters from Occupy Wall Street were arrested that evening when, at the workers’ request, they refused to leave. Next the union organized a “Workers’ Justice Cafe” outside the shuttered location, offering coffee and bagels for free in order to drum up publicity and support.
“This is Occupy Wall Street’s support at its best: supporting a worker-led struggle to fight Wall Street where it attacks our communities the most,” supporter Diego Ibañez told reporter Laura Gottesdiener.
[Note: Since going to press, Clarion has learned that the agreement between Hot & Crusty workers and the store’s new owner has fallen through. The workers have resumed picketing and are asking for solidarity from other labor unions and community groups as they continue their struggle for a fair contract.]