Car wash employees in New York and New Jersey will soon be getting the money they deserve following a federal court settlement. Eighteen immigrant workers were owed unpaid wages according to a 2011 lawsuit. The $1.65 million settlement reached this week will give each of those 18 workers $91,000.
Reuters reports that the decision marks the largest per-worker settlement in the car wash industry to date. It comes at a time when car wash businesses and employees, around the New York area especially, are looking to unionize to protect workers rights and ensure fair pay. Each of the 18 employees will receive about $91,000 but a few will receive about $200,000, depending on how many hours were worked and never paid.
Workers rights in the car wash industry have been under the most scrutiny where immigrant workers are employed. Often they are taken advantage of for their illegal status or because they simply don’t know their rights in the workplace. In this case, workers were paid between $50 and $70 for a 12-hour shift and were not given breaks. Their pay was well below the state’s minimum wage of $9 an hour.
Former employees benefiting from the settlement said they realized even while they were working that the conditions were likely illegal. Many were forced to work without breaks and in cold weather. Some were asked to show up to work but not paid until customers arrived.