By David Brand
Incomes fluctuate on a daily basis for the hundreds of men and women who scrub, vacuum and detail cars throughout the New York City area.
Their take-home pay depends on the generosity, or stinginess, of customers — and the honesty of their employers, who are known to reach into the tip jar and pocket the cash. But a bill that passed the State Senate Wednesday would address that instability by ensuring car wash workers earn at least minimum wage in and around NYC.
The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Jessica Ramos, would amend the labor law to require car wash workers to earn minimum wage, rather than a legally lower rate supplemented by tips. The law would apply to workers in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties as well as any city with a population of 1 million people — aka New York City.
”Car wash workers across New York have been underpaid for years, and rely on the whims of good tippers to earn a living,” Ramos told the Eagle. “Wage theft is also rampant, and many of these immigrant workers are exploited at the hands of a system that does not protect them.”
Ramos said the bill, which passed 39-23, would specifically raise wages for up to 300 workers and their families in District 13, which includes Corona and Jackson Heights. Ramos has also sponsored a bill to extend labor protections to New York farmworkers who do not have a right to organize or bargain collectively.
Car wash workers can take home as little as $50 a day after 12 hours of intense scrubbing and cleaning, The New York Times reported in February. That equates to roughly $4 per hour, less than a third of minimum wage.
Wage theft is rampant in the tip-based job, Make the Road New York Co-director Deborah Axt told the Times.
“It’s virtually impossible to detect and enforce wage theft with a system where employers are allowed to count tips toward the minimum wage,” Axt said.