Cops arrested a pair of councilmen on Wednesday morning for blocking traffic in a show of solidarity with the striking workers of a Greenwood Heights car wash.
Councilmen Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) and Carlos Menchaca (D–Red Hook) joined the employees of Vegas Auto Spa on their picket line to call attention to the dispute and to pressure the owner to come to the table to negotiate a contract.
“I’m eager to see them get a fair contract and be able to benefit from some of the basics that workers get when they’re in a union,” Lander said, shortly after becoming a free man that afternoon. “We are trying to make it clear to owners and employers that workers deserve fair treatment.”
Lander, Menchaca, and a group of union activists blocked traffic on 19th Street near the car wash, kneeling on the pavement and chanting as police warned them to disperse or face arrest. When they refused to move, officers cuffed the pols and led them to a waiting van as the councilmen mugged for the cameras.
The car wash’s eight employees have been on strike since November, a month after they hit owner Marat Leshchinsky with a lawsuit accusing him of bilking them out of more than $600,000 in pay. Some workers put in as many as 91 hours per week and were paid as little as $4.50 an hour, according to the filing.
Seeking to unionize and bargain for a better contract, the workers walked off the job shortly before Thanksgiving and have not been back since. The move shuttered the shop for two months until Leshchinsky hired employees to replace them.
The employees, who refer to themselves as “carwasheros,” voted unanimously in January to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, which has helped other car wash workers in Brooklyn to unionize. But even with union representation, negotiations have stalled. A representative of the union said Leshchinsky has ignored the striking workers and has declined to come to the table to work toward a resolution.
“He still refuses to recognize the union and the worker’s right to push for better working conditions,” Janna Pea said. “He says in public that he allows it, but then he disputes everything.”
Leshchinsky vigorously denied that he has blocked attempts by workers to unionize, and accused organizers of prompting his workers to revolt, then leaving them out in the cold instead of working for a mutually beneficial contract. He blasted Lander for entering the fray on the side of the workers.
“Mr. Lander is a corrupt politician who is just trying to score political points,” he said. “I was willing to sign a fair contract based on my financial ability, but these people have never sat down with me to discuss this situation.”