BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
On Jan. 30, workers at Five Star Car Wash in Elmhurst walked off the job to protest the owner’s retaliation and refusal to fulfill the legal requirement that he meet with the workers’ union to negotiate a contract.
Since they voted to unionize in November, the workers, known as carwasheros, have reported that owner David Amar has retaliated against them by threatening to cut their hours, disciplining them without contacting the union and refusing to meet with the union to bargain for a contract that will provide the carwasheros better working conditions.
According to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the law says a company cannot retaliate against workers exercising their rights and must cooperate with its workers’ elected union.
On Monday, Rocio Valerio, WASH NY campaign organizer, said the union met with Five Star Car Wash’s attorney, Stephen Hans, which she said was a productive first step towards negotiating a contract.
“We were both learning what the workers want and what the management can do,” she said.
Overall, Valerio said the workers want better wages, their work to be valued, safer working conditions and respect and dignity at the workplace.
Since organizing, Valerio said the workers definitely notice the difference and a sense of respect from the management.
“There is harassment, but they have definitely learned to stand their ground,” she said. “By walking out and stopping the entire operation for a little over an hour shows how much power the workers have. They are willing to work, but they are only willing to work under safer and more dignified conditions and we can only guarantee that through a contract.”
She said the walk-out was considered a victory for the workers, because management did promise the union and the workers that he would negotiate with the lawyer.
Rolando Hernandes, 40, a carwashero at Five Star car wash for 14 years, said he feels a lot better working since the backing of the union.
“Before we started organizing, however, many of the workers were not making enough money,” he said. “But we see a huge difference with what’s happening now as opposed to before.”
Hernandes said when the workers went on strike, they felt good and united.
“We want to have the contract signed and have higher wages,” he said. “I deserve a little bit of a higher wage.”
Hans said there is a lot of information that has to be cumulated and like any other bargaining process; it is a process of figuring the needs versus capabilities.
“This is tough,” Hans said. “The car wash business is a very unique business because when it rains and snow, it closes. It’s in a middle of a transformation right now because the unions are attempting to unionize all of the car washes versus the abundance of car washes.”
Hans said negotiating a contract will take some more time.
Reach Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Tsakhuja13.