Car wash workers received thousands of dollars in back pay on Thursday as part of a more than $5 million settlement with the owner of four car washes in New York and New Jersey, attorneys for the employees said.
The 88 employees, including immigrants from the Domincan Republic, Mexico, Nigeria, Mali and El Salvador, were paid from $4 to $5 an hour, below the minimum wage, said Steven Arenson, the attorney behind the settlement. The car washes were in Manhattan, the Bronx and Elizabeth, N.J.
“They worked outside, no meal breaks, no rest breaks, under brutal conditions,” Arenson said. “This is a particularly vulnerable workforce, an immigrant workforce. Most of them don’t speak English and are recent immigrants. They worked under particularly grueling conditions, with chemicals and with water.
“This is life-changing money,” Arenson added. “Finally justice has been achieved.”
Each worker will receive as much as $90,000, depending on how long they worked there. He said the settlement covered from 2007 through 2014, when court-appointed trustees were put in place to manage the car washes and pay a legal wage.
“We worked, everyone, 12 hours a day for $35,” said Bronx resident Martin Urena, 62, who worked at three car washes and spoke through a translator. “I worked for more than 15 years at that company and those people always treated us badly.”
Franci Hernandez, 40, worked at the car washes since he came to New York from Santo Domingo in 2003 until 2009. He said he suffers from bone pain since working there and has to take medicine to sleep.
“I had to leave it because I couldn’t take it,” said Hernandez, through a translator. “We had to eat and just abandon our food because when you start to eat they will send you home, they wouldn’t give you work.”