Car Wash Politics

Various elected officials rallied in East Harlem the other day.

Organizers have been ramping up their efforts to change the way car washes treat their workers in New York City, and judging from recent events, it seems that they’ve generated a bit of momentum. For example, earlier today, the New York Daily News reported a new federal lawsuit placed against a car wash business, and advocates involved in the effort told The Politicker they feel the tipping point is almost at hand.

“I’ve been amazed by the number of elected officials that have reached out to us that tell us that they want to get involved, even elected officials without a lot of car wash workers residing in their districts,” the president of the RWDSU Stuart Appelbaum, said. “There’s a sense that this is more than just car wash workers but what sort of city we want New York to be.”

The issue, labor and immigration advocates say, are the below-minimum wages paid to workers, unsafe working conditions, and lack of overtime pay, among other things. And, elected officials — many of whom are running for citywide office — are increasingly getting involved, even though many of those affected are undocumented and thus cannot vote for them.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Councilman Dan Garodnick, candidates for mayor and comptroller respectively, recently trekked up to East Harlem to rally for the cause with various other officials, and the four other leading candidates for mayor have all taken notice as well.

“We’ve had good conversations with both John Liu and with Bill Thompson and Scott Stringer, and I think Christine [Quinn] supports the legislation [to regulate car wash businesses],” Jon Kest, the executive director of New York Communities for Change, explained.

“You don’t see issues that are so clear cut every day where you have thousands of workers so underpaid and exploited in an industry that’s totally unregulated,” he added. “I think organizations that they generally respect like NYCC, Make the Road New York and the RWDSU are doing the organizing, and they’re running for political office, so it just adds up.”

Car Wash Politics