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Local & National Leaders Demand Justice for New York City Car Wash Workers

National and local labor leaders, local elected and community leaders demonstrate and are arrested in support of Car Wash Accountability Act 

BROOKLYN, NY– Today, in an act of civil disobedience, top leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) , as well as local elected and community leaders were arrested as part of a demonstration in support of the rights of car wash workers in New York City. Those arrested included UFCW International President Marc Perrone and UFCW Executive Vice President Stuart Appelbaum.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone being arrested at the demonstration

UFCW International President Marc Perrone being arrested at the demonstration

The action was led by striking immigrant workers at Vegas Auto Spa in Brooklyn and car wash workers from across New York City. Elected officials and faith leaders also joined in support. Demonstrators undertook a 10-block march through the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn and blocked the streets outside Vegas Auto Spa.

“These workers are not just hardworking men and women, they are part of our family. And, like every family, we will stand and fight for them. They’ve earned the right to be treated better and fairly. We stand together to demand not only the better wages they are owed, but the right that every worker has to be treated with dignity and respect on the job” Perrone said. “This is about the right of low-wage and immigrant workers across America to have their voices heard.”

Workers at Vegas Auto Spa have been on strike since November shortly after they sued the car wash owner for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and damages. The workers voted unanimously to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), an affiliate of the UFCW, in January. The owner has repeatedly refused to settle the dispute with workers and engaged in threats and retaliation.

Some workers report being paid less than the minimum wage and not receiving time and a half for overtime. Others report working 70 to 90 hours a week. The workers have gone to court, alleging they are owed back wages and damages. They have also filed complaints with Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) about unsafe working conditions and not receiving the proper safety equipment to deal with the toxic chemicals used to clean cars. DSC_4729

Vegas Auto Spa was the tenth New York City carwash where workers voted to join the RWDSU/UFCW as part of the WASH New York campaign. Demonstrators urged the New York City Council to pass the Car Wash Accountability Act, legislation that would crack down on unlawful employers and bring transparency and accountability to an industry that has a history of mistreating its workers.

 

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org, or join our online community at www.facebook.com/UFCWinternational and www.twitter.com/ufcw.

Women’s History Month: Senator Barbara Mikulski and the Need for More Women in Congress

This week, Senator Barbara Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in Congress, announced that she will be retiring in 2017 when her term ends.

The news of the the Maryland Democrat’s departure from Congress is somewhat hard to bear–Senator Mikulski, who began her career as a community organizer and worked her way up, has been a role model and mentor to countless women of both political parties over the years. When she took office in 1987, the Senator was one of only two women. She has used her years of experience since then to build a strong base of female power in Congress.

Senator Mikulski “was devoted to increasing the number of female Democrats in Congress, and maintaining an informal working group of women from both parties in the Senate, a rarefied group,” noted the New York Times.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/03/02/us/politics/women-in-the-senate.html

Of all the people who have served in the US Senate, just 2% have been women. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/03/02/us/politics/women-in-the-senate.html

With still only 20 female members in the senate, and fellow Senator Barbara Boxer not seeking another term in in 2016, the need for more female leaders is still urgent.

According to Princeton professor and expert on Congress Julian E. Zelizer, who teaches public affairs and history, “There are more women than before. But it’s certainly not representative of the general population, and the number of female senators in leadership positions is meager. The Senate simply doesn’t look like the America, and that only intensifies the distance between the citizenry and this institution.”

In a graphic released by the New York Times, these numbers are made clear: “of the 1,963 people who have served in the Senate, just 46 have been women, or about 2 percent.”

As we celebrate Women’s History Month throughout March, we must remember that the fight for women’s rights and equal treatment is ongoing, and although we have come so far–thanks in part to strong women like Mikulski–we have a long way to go.

After the Senator’s announcement to retire, President Obama weighed in on her contribution to women and families: “Thanks to her leadership, more women excel in their careers, more children have access to quality education, more families have health insurance and more people are treated fairly under the law.” Mikulski was also the first female chairperson to lead the Appropriations Committee.

On the bright side, Senator Mikulski’s decision will allow her to focus on her work, instead of fundraising and campaigning, she said.

The Senator recent quote in the New York Times was true to her work ethic and support of middle class Americans: “Every day, I want to wake up thinking about you, the little guys and gals, the watermen, automobile workers, researchers, small-business owners and families,” Ms. Mikulski said Monday. “I want to give you 120 percent of my time with all of my energy focused on you and your futures.”

Musician and “Workingman’s Warrior” Steve Earle Releases New Album

image via the Sun Times

image via the Sun Times

Back in 2011, when the collective bargaining rights of public sector union members in Wisconsin were being threatened by union-busting Governor Scott Walker, legendary Steve Earle released two songs–‘Harlan Man’ and ‘The Mountain’–with all proceeds going the Labor Unity Fund. The songs were glimpses into the life of a union member. Just like the hundreds of other angry union members that showed up at the capital building in Madison to defend their rights, Earle was adamant that letting collective bargaining be taken away would be detrimental to our system of democracy.

Fast forward four years and we are back in the same situation: despite the objections and testimonials from countless working men and women, Wisconsin lawmakers are again attacking our rights. The state senate passed Right to Work legislation last week, which, if passed in the Assembly this week as it’s expected to be, will make Wisconsin the 25th Right to Work (for less) state in the country. No matter what happens, the labor movement and its supporters will always stand together and speak out about defending our rights.

Earle, whose support of union members in 2011 made him a beloved “workingman’s warrior” has now released a collection of blues songs. Read more about his new album–called Terraplane–at Rolling Stone. If you’d like to support Earle the way he has supported labor while simultaneously enjoying some great tunes, you can purchase the album here.