Two local councilmembers have taken a stand for local car wash employees who they say are underpaid.
On Wednesday, March 4, Councilmember Carlos Menchaca was arrested along with Councilmember Brad Lander near the Vegas Auto Shop at 19th Street and Seventh Avenue for civil disobedience and blocking traffic during a protest with carwash employees who are currently on strike over working conditions and unfair pay.
Also in attendance to support the workers were Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, representatives of organizations Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change, labor leader Stuart Appelbaum and local residents.
“I was arrested (and later released) alongside Councilmember Brad Lander,” said Menchaca in a statement shortly after his arrest. “We will not be stopped until justice for these workers is achieved. We are on a clear path for victory. “
Eight of the carwash employees claim their boss, Marat Leshchinsky, owes them a total of $600,000 because, they say, he has not paid them either the minimum wage or overtime. They responded by suing him last November and have been on strike since, hoping to receive union rights and improved pay. Leshehinsky has since hired replacements. He also claims he has always followed minimum wage laws.
However, the protesters disagreed. “We believe that real power belongs to us, the people,” Menchaca said. “Bad actors believe that they can ‘wait it out,’ but today they saw firsthand that there is no waiting for justice. It is unacceptable that in New York City, under our very noses, bad business owners are creating unsafe spaces for workers and not allowing for full dignity with fair wages and medical benefits. We organize and participate in actions like this to end regressive businesses practices.”
Menchaca smiled as he was placed in plastic handcuffs. Recalling that, “Just last week I had the honor of overseeing a hearing in the Council’s Committee on Immigration that focused on labor-trafficking, and the concerns of immigrant, often voice-less, workers of our city,” he contended, “That is our role as councilmembers, to lift the voices of our people.”
The employees have coined the word carwasheros to describe themselves. They are continuing to fight, chanting “Si Se Puede” during the protest, translating into ‘Yes, we can!”
“It is easy to decry income inequality. But it is hard to risk your job, endure abuse, face conflict, and speak like an equal human being when working under a cruel owner like Marat Leshehinsky,” Lander contended. “That’s why I’m willing to put myself on the line in solidarity, to be arrested in support of their cause. For their wages, yes. But even more because their insistence on human dignity can have ripple effects far beyond their struggle.”
“The carwasheros of the Vegas Auto Spa are our fathers, brothers, cousins, nephews, neighbors, and friends,” added Menchaca. “They have been on strike for almost four months. They are not a distant reminder of worker struggle; they are right here in our neighborhood. Today, we elevated their call and affirmed their resolve”