After five years of legal dispute, a group of 18 Latino immigrant car wash employees from the New York and New Jersey area hit the jackpot Tuesday (June 21), in a $1.65 million settlement for wage theft and emotional distress. This is by far the largest wage settlement ever awarded in their line of work.
The 18 employees worked at four different car wash locations owned by José Vázquez throughout New York City and New Jersey (J.V. Car Wash in the Washington Heights, New York City; Webster Hand Car Wash Corp. in the Bronx; Harlem Hand Car Wash Corp. in Harlem, New York City and the Bayway Hand Car Wash Corp. in Elizabeth, New Jersey.)
After splitting payment, each will receive an approximate sum of $91k, except for the two plaintiffs that have worked at their car wash locations much longer. These two plaintiffs will be receiving almost $200k each.
Ramón M. Alvarez, 70, worked at the Elizabeth and the Bronx location for six years and made as little as $20 a day, with tips included. “When I looked for help they kicked me out of work because I looked for help,” Alvarez told NBC Latino. “And for me, it was very difficult to take care of my family without a job. Today, I say thank you, God, that we won. Thank you to the American legal system. Here we thank the rules.”
According to the plaintiffs’ complaints, they were not permitted to take breaks throughout their 10-hour shifts and had to service up to 1,200 cars a day. They were only able to sneak off and grab lunch when the business got slow, where they would have to eat quickly and standing up before the next car arrived. Many times they cruelly had to stand outside in below zero weather.
“Today marks the final step in a five-year battle: the battle for workers rights, the battle for immigrants rights and the battle against wage theft,” said attorney Steven Arenson. “Today, happily, this is the final piece in setting a record.”
It took a minute, but hooray for justice!