Elected officials back strikers vs. car wash

Picketers dissuaded drivers from entering Sunny Day Car Wash on Third Avenue at E. 135th St. in Mott Haven on Nov. 16.

Judge denies owner’s call for an injunction against picketers

Some two-dozen laid off car wash workers were joined by elected officials today in their continuing strike against their former employer. The workers want their jobs back after being let go earlier this week for staging a one-day work stoppage.

They and their union representatives say Sunny Day Car Wash on E. 135th St. and Lincoln Avenue illegally fired them for not reporting on the job last Sunday after the workers weren’t paid for three weeks. The next day they were notified that they were being fired, and would have to sign letters of resignation before being allowed to pick up their belated paychecks.

State Senators Joseph Serrano and Gustavo Rivera, along with Assemblyman Jose Rivera, attended the Friday rally demanding the owner of Sunny Day, Frank Roman, rehire the workers and improve their working conditions.

“This is a pretty common occurrence in our community. Many new immigrants have been taken advantage of,” Serrano said, adding that the strike and the attention it is attracting would help “shine a strong spotlight on this abuse.”

The workers at Sunny Day are from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Senator Gustavo Rivera told the workers in Spanish “we believe strongly in unions, because that’s how your voices can be heard.”

Inside the shop, manager Joseph Lopez said the workers initiated the strike based on “false information,” though he wouldn’t elaborate.

In a phone conversation, a man identifying himself as Louis Febus, said he was a representative of the Hispanic American Car Wash Owner’s Association Inc. located on the floor above Sunny Day. Febus called the dispute a “misunderstanding,” adding the goal of the non-profit, which was incorporated in September, is “making sure owners have legal rights. And making sure employees have legal rights, too.” He added he could not yet disclose what the true root of the conflict was.

Attorneys for the strikers say Roman asked a judge to grant an injunction that would force the workers to move the picket line a block away rather than near the entrance to the business where vehicles enter on E. 135th St. and Third Ave.. But the judge declined, saying he would not intervene in what amounted to a labor dispute.

Several drivers stopped as if to enter the car wash from Third Ave. in heavy noon time traffic, then drove away, as the workers shouted slogans.

“We’re not going to leave until justice is served and we’re recognized as a union,” said Teodoro Ramon, 26, a car washer from Veracruz, Mexico.

“They should pay us a regular salary, $7.25 per hour,” said Francisco De Los Santos, 16, from Puebla, Mexico, who said he came to the US a year-and-a-half ago, and has been working at Sunny Day for the last year. Car washes are allowed to pay workers below minimum wage because workers get tips from drivers, the city says. But the workers contend management often withholds tip money intended for them. Workers at Sunny Day say they earn $5.50 per hour, and that raises are unheard of.