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Juan Carlos Rivera , New York

Managers steal our tips

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My name is Juan Carlos Rivera, and I have worked at a few different car washes for a total of about eight years. I also have many friends who work at car washes, and I talk to them to learn more about different practices at different car washes.

Working at a car wash is a dirty job. Workers often get paid less the tipped minimum wage, our tips get stolen, and we don’t get proper compensation for overtime, spread of hours, or reporting hours. On top of that, we sometimes have to work without proper personal equipment to protect us during the waste disposal process.

I am aware of a few different ways that car washes have cleaned out their filters. One car wash used to put all of the sludge from the filter into special containers that would get taken away by a company. But these containers cost a few hundred dollars. After a while, that car wash began to clean its filter by opening up the pipe that’s underneath the filter, turning on the faucet, and letting water rinse all of the sludge down the drain into the sewer.

At one car wash where I worked a long time ago, the other workers and I were asked to clean out the filter and throw the sludge into the sewer, but they told us “nobody can see you do this,” as though they needed it to be a secret. At another car wash that I am familiar with, the sludge gets taken into the basement where there is a drain that leads directly to the sewer. The car wash takes the sludge from the filter and pours it down the drain. Disposing of sludge in the city sewer seems to be very common in the car wash industry, because many of my friends who work in different car washes have seen sludge poured into the sewer at their car wash.

I will also tell you what happens sometimes when a car gets damaged at a car wash. I witnessed situations where a car got damaged at a car wash, but when the customer pointed it out, the manager denied it. In these situations, the manager argued with the customer, saying that it didn’t get broken at the car wash and refused to pay for it. Sometimes, the manager would win and the customer would give up and leave. Other times, the customer would argue long enough that the manager would finally agree to replace the damaged part. But even then, it was the workers who had to pay for the damages. Workers would have to make payments from their paycheck, or it was taken from our tips.

Since we decided to organize and join a union, the conditions at my car wash have changed drastically. At my car wash, we are now given the choice of cleaning the pit with all the sludge, and we are now given gloves, goggles and a suit to protect ourselves. We no longer have to worry about our wages; my two kids can count on shoes and school supplies when they need them. Deciding to organize has changed my life, and I will continue to fight until all the carwasheros in this city have the same protections and benefits I can now enjoy.