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Workers asking Sutphin wash to clean up act

David de la Cruz Perez (c.) speaks about working at the car wash for five years. Photo by Nykeema Williams
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Advocates for workers’ rights said they have some dirt on a Jamaica car wash and that management should come clean.

Community activists gathered last week outside the Sutphin Car Wash, at 97-31 Sutphin Blvd., where they said operator Fernando Magalhaes has been retaliating against workers who have been fighting for fair pay and safer working conditions.

Hillary Klein, a lead organizer with the advocacy group Make the Road New York, said there are about 17 employees at the car wash who are taken advantage of because they are not fully aware of their rights.

“In general, they’re undocumented, marginalized and easily manipulated when they try to stand up for their rights,” she said.

Neither the car wash’s owner nor the manager was available for comment.

The employees all make about $5.50 an hour with the expectation that tips will bring that number up to the state’s minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, said Klein. Management is supposed to cover the difference, but refuses to do so, she added.

Klein also said the employees work with harsh chemicals and have been denied requests for protective gear.

Before the day’s protest, which included sign-carrying and drum-banging activists, Klein invited Magalhaes to accept a list of demands the advocates planned to deliver, but he declined to show, according to Klein.

Wash New York, an umbrella organization composed of Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said Magalhaes, along with owner John Lage, has recently been subpoenaed by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on charges of violating employees’ rights. The attorney general’s office said it could not comment on any potential ongoing matter.

City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton), chairman of the Council Civil Service & Labor Committee, joined the protest and characterized management as profiteers making big bucks off the backs of their employees.

“We don’t want a dirty conscience just to get a clean car,” he said. “It seems to me the wealthiest people with the largest waist lines are always telling the rest of us to tighten our belts.”

Watching the protest from the side, employee Tiago Azevedo disagreed with the criticisms.

“They’re a bunch of lies,” said Azevedo, who has worked at the car wash for about four months.

He said the owner is an “excellent man” who pays the minimum wage plus overtime.

Speaking through an interpreter, employee David de la Cruz Perez said he hurt his hand on the job six months ago and was offered no financial assistance.

Sanders joined the Rev. Darrell Da Costa, of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Corona, in recognizing a moral obligation to care for the most vulnerable in the community.

“My Bible tells me I’ll be judged by how I treat the least among us, not the greatest, not the wealthiest, not the 1 percent,” he said.

Sanders then led protesters inside the car wash, where he delivered a list of grievances to Azevedo, who accepted them and then asked the group to leave.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Posted 5:04 pm, April 4, 2012
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