A group of car wash workers in Greenwood Heights are back on the job with a union contract after a bitter, four month-long strike.
The eight employees of Vegas Auto Spa, on strike since November, are back at work on last Monday after hashing out a two-year contract that includes two wage increases and paid time off along with a $1,500 signing bonus. The contract is the result of a hard fight, said a union organizer in the wake of the agreement.
“This is a perfect example of what can happen when courageous workers stick together in the face of adversity,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. “They understand the difference being in a union can make, and I am proud they are part of the RWDSU.”
The car wash workers went on strike in November with a list of grievances, including allegations of stolen wages and lack of overtime pay. Their complaints are laid out in a lawsuit — filed in October and settled along with the contract negotiation — that accuses their boss, car wash owner Marat Leshchinsky of bilking them out of more than $600,000 in pay. Some workers put in as many as 91 hours per week and were paid as little as $4.50 an hour, according to the filing.
In an interview in March, Leshchinsky denied the claims in the lawsuit, and accused the workers’ union backers of putting them up the court case and the strike for political gain.
The strike became a cause célèbre for local pols, some of whom tossed themselves into the fracas, purposefully getting arrested last month in a protest outside the suds shop on Seventh Avenue between 19th and 20th streets. One of the supporting pols trumpeted the workers’ victory.
“It’s an all-around win for the brave workers who so courageously put their jobs on the line, and another win for low wage workers everywhere,” said Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope). “When workers stand up for better treatment, their actions have echo effects that stretch far beyond their shop.”
Leshchinsky could not be reached for comment on Friday.