New Law Would Protect ‘Carwasheros’ in NYC

The bill will benefit some 3,000 “carwasheros” who fought tirelessly for their rights. (Photo via El Diario)

The bill will benefit some 3,000 “carwasheros” who fought tirelessly for their rights. (Photo via El Diario)

From now on, car washing businesses will have to comply with some requirements in order to continue their operations thanks to a bill passed ‒ 44 in favor, 6 against and 1 abstained ‒ last Wednesday in City Council.

Car washes must now obtain a license with the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), pay a $150,000 surety bond if workers are not in a union, and comply with environmental protection regulations.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who helped introduce the bill, said that “wage theft and inhumane working conditions will not be tolerated in the city. With this law, we are talking about proactive steps to ensure that car wash owners show respect and fairness to their workers, customers and the environment.”

“This is a huge victory for car washers. Before we got organized, I was working nearly 72 hours a week making a meager $5.50 per hour with no over time. To make matters worse, our boss would steal our tips,” said Miguel Portillo, who works at a car wash in Queens. “Now I know that we will finally be protected from wage theft and that I can demand to get appropriate protective gear to handle certain chemicals. But, most importantly, car wash workers will get the respect and dignity we deserve.”

Meanwhile, Public Advocate Letitia James said that “this is a victory for workers in the car wash industry who have been exploited and abused for too long.”

Not everyone was happy about the measure’s approval. Stephen Bernard, who spoke on behalf of the Association of Car Wash Owners, summarized the bill’s authorization saying “they don’t know what they are doing.” He added that “it will greatly harm owners, and it is ridiculous that the [amount of the] bond payment is subject to being in a union.”

In order to obtain the license, businesses will have to show a favorable history including compliance with labor laws, contracts and working conditions. The surety bond will be reduced to $30,000 for those who allow unions or are under state supervision.

The bond is meant to guarantee financial support when workers issue complaints regarding failure to pay wages and to protect customers when they make claims for damages to their vehicles.

It is estimated that nearly 130 car washes operate in New York City, employing close to 3,000 workers.

Details of the measure

  • License: $550 (valid for two years)
  • Pass a character screening
  • Show respect for labor laws and provide appropriate working conditions
  • Surety bond: $150,000 (if workers are not unionized) or $30,000 (if workers are unionized or business is supervised by the state)

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