Irate workers rallied in front of Hi-Tek Car Wash in Brighton Beach on Thursday afternoon, claiming management cut their  work hours and reduced pay after employees, former employees, and union activists began targeting the local business.

Led by Alexandra Garcia of New York Communities for Change, workers and former workers of Hi-Tek, alongside other car wash and supermarket employees, approached the front of the 2981 Coney Island Avenue business screaming and chanting in Spanish. They addressed the owner of Hi-Tek, Gary Pinkus, and demanded that he listen and institute “justice now.” Many were carrying signs with phrases such as “‘Clean up’ the car wash industry,” and “Up with wages.”

As the demonstration progressed, one worker at Hi-Tek, who was in the process of drying a customer’s car, stopped working and began to shout, as he joined the protest. Yet, after a moment, he went back to his work.

“They’re stealing people’s money,” said Noel, a former worker at Hi-Tek. “He only paid me five dollars an hour, not seven.”

On June 26, Hi-Tek was sued by 17 of its workers, who claimed they were not being paid minimum wage or properly compensated for overtime. A second lawsuit against Hi-Tek was filed on July 17. After the suits were filed, the hours of many workers were cut, they said, which thereby cut their weekly pay. According to New York Communities for Change, this was Hi-Tek’s way of retaliating against the suits filed.

Pablo Alexander, who began to work for Hi-Tek in 2008, expressed his frustration regarding cuts made to his hours. He said that when he began working, he worked many hours, yet, recently, he has not been able to work for more than 40 hours a week at five dollars an hour.

“With only 40 hours a week at that wage, we can’t afford anything,” Alexander said. “We cannot pay our bills on time. We cannot even afford rent.”

Pinkus declined to comment, referring Sheepshead Bites to his son. The son did not respond to comment after several requests, but previously left an anonymous representative of Hi-Tek left the following comment on this site, explaining Hi-Tek’s side of the story [Corrected]:

I can tell you that the workers are in fact compensated appropriately and fairly – even on the slower days, their compensation with tips exceeds the minimum required compensation in NYC. Not only that, but proper

This is an issue of unionization of an industry, either unionize or prepare to face media scrutiny and possible0 legal actions bestowed upon you. The problem is that when you attempt to unionize such a small industry (let’s face it, you pay ~$10 per car wash, this isn’t a multi-billion dollar industry), you are fragmenting the economy and more harm is done than good.

If every carwash were to start paying minimum wage + tips, then there would be less of a workforce and more unemployed staff, not sure what these union promoters are thinking about.

This is a movement to crack down and regulate all NYC carwashes. Hi-Tek is grateful and proud to serve its community and customers and we will continue to provide the best service. We are also observant of our local community views and are happy to hear what our neighbors have to say.

While the crowd protested outside, New York Communities for Change sent a delegation inside to deliver a letter to Pinkus. The letter demanded that he cease cutting employees hours in response to the workers’ activism. The letter said that if workers’ lost hours are not restored by August 14, they will escalate to a boycott.

As the delegation approached Pinkus with this letter, he refused to accept it and demanded that they step outside.

“Step out or I’m calling the police,” Pinkus threatened.

After this failed attempt to speak to Pinkus, the delegation re-joined the workers and continued to rally outside and speak of their experiences at Hi-Tek.

“We’re only asking that they give them minimum wage,” said a representative of New York Communities for Change. “We’re only asking for whats fair.”

CORRECTION (8/14/2012 at 1:38 p.m.): Hi-Tek has informed us that the comment left on our site did not actually come from Gary Pinkus’ son, but rather from an “anonymous representative” of the car wash.

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  • BayResident

    Am I missing something? These guys are being paid legal wages, for a standard 40 hour work week, but it isn’t enough for them so they are protesting? I worked for $5 an hour at some point in my life, my father worked for far less than that, and when it wasn’t enough for me anymore I asked for more. When I didn’t get more I left the job and sought out something better. I wouldn’t even dream of blaming my employer for not wanting to give me more money when there are people who would replace me for less. I never understood this logic. You shop around for the best price on the services you use, so why shouldn’t an employer get the best possible price for his employees? If Joe is willing to do the job for $5 + tips and your skillset doesn’t stand out in any way, then you will be paid accordingly. Is that weird? Is that unjust? Or is asking an employer to spend more money just because it isn’t enough for you unjust? If you want more money, go out there and find a job that pays more. If you are stuck in a position, like many people are, where you can’t find something better then perhaps you should be protesting some other underlying issue, not a small business owner who has no reason to be penalized.

    Besides all this, and Milan’s point about how higher wages equal less employees, how exactly does a boycott help the fact that you don’t like how much you are getting paid? Let me guess, they expect the workers hours to remain the same even during a boycott where there will be far less customers?

    That being said, I think it would be very reasonable for the business owner to raise the wages of some of his best guys to keep them happy and keep them around. But if he would prefer to pay the bare minimum and have a high turnover, then that is entirely his prerogative. Stop with the entitled bullshit. Nobody owes you anything.

    I’m sure there will be people who adamantly disagree with this comment, but please understand that I am very willing to listen and might indeed be missing something, so feel free to fill me in.

    • http://www.flickr.com/knightmare6 Knightmare6

      The only problem is $5/hr. is below the current minimum wage ($7.25/hr or $5.12/hr for tipped)

    • frankiev

      I agree all around. The thing is that the prices being charged for a car wash were based on underpaying their employees. Now that they are paying legal rates they have to either cut the number of employees or raise the price of a car wash.
      Simple economics.
      I happen to really like this car wash and would pay a little more if I had to.
      But it wouldnt be fair if other car washes didnt have to play by the same rules.

    • ShadowLock

      they are also protesting because they worked overtime, and didn’t get paid for it.

    • Andrew

       “You shop around for the best price on the services you use, so why
      shouldn’t an employer get the best possible price for his employees? If
      Joe is willing to do the job for $5 + tips and your skillset doesn’t
      stand out in any way, then you will be paid accordingly. Is that weird?
      Is that unjust?”

      It’s not weird or unjust if you are a boss.  If you are a worker, on the other hand, it’s a different story.  You ever heard of a race to the bottom?  By your lowest-bid logic, we should all be working for pennies, and if we don’t like it, then…oh, wait, all employers will pay pennies if there’s always someone willing to work for less.  Which means we’re all screwed (unless you’re a boss).
      Sad how low our expectations of work, no matter what the job, have dropped.

      Andrew
      Philadelphia

      • BayResident

        Andrew, I think there are several independent discussions to be had here, and I’d like to first make it clear that I am not hard set on my opinions but am actually looking for feedback.

        First, let’s talk about the workers. For unskilled labor such as this, where it is difficult to get hired based on any value added (ie. Joe is no better at drying off cars than Frank so it doesn’t matter to the employer which one is doing the job) isn’t price one of the few points where the workers can compete? If there are 12 jobs and I am one of 30 people who wants one, and can survive on a few dollars less than the next guy, wouldn’t it make sense for me to offer my services at a lower rate? If you take away my right to compete than I am suddenly on the same level as everyone else applying for the job and much more likely to get nothing at all rather than the little less I was willing to settle for. I’d be pretty pissed off.

        Second comes the concept of the “race to the bottom” which I have a hard time envisioning in this case. Using the car wash as an example, and taking the minimum wage out of the picture, you propose a situation in which workers compete for a job by offering their services for less and less money until eventually they are all working for pennies. Wouldn’t we reach a natural “minimum wage” where workers would no longer take the job for the low wages offered? There is always a level where time spent is no longer justified by the money received. I think it is unfair to say that there is always someone who is willing to work for less because even if there is, not everyone is fit to hire. Even if there is very little distinction between how well Joe and Frank can do the job they still need to be qualified to do it. Do you really believe that there are people who are qualified to do the job (Someone who can not only do the job but also be trusted with expensive vehicles with the keys in the ignition and valuables left inside) who are willing to work for pennies? And if there are, shouldn’t they have the opportunity to do so before the guy willing to do the same thing for more. And if the employer can’t fill all of the required positions at the lower rate he will naturally be forced to pay more. I understand perfectly well that people go through hardships and are often put in a position where not accepting less pay means not bringing home any dinner, but when the pay becomes so low that it isn’t even enough for dinner then nobody who needs to eat will accept the job at all and wages will again go up.
        Second comes the concept of the “race to the bottom” which I have a hard time envisioning in this case. Using the car wash as an example, and taking the minimum wage out of the picture, you propose a situation in which workers compete for a job by offering their services for less and less money until eventually they are all working for pennies. Wouldn’t we reach a natural “minimum wage” where workers would no longer take the job for the low wages offered? There is always a level where time spent is no longer justified by the money received. I think it is unfair to say that there is always someone who is willing to work for less because even if there is, not everyone is fit to hire. Even if there is very little distinction between how well Joe and Frank can do the job they still need to be qualified to do it. Do you really believe that there are people who are qualified to do the job (Someone who can not only do the job but also be trusted with expensive vehicles with the keys in the ignition and valuables left inside) who are willing to work for pennies? And if there are, shouldn’t they have the opportunity to do so before the guy willing to do the same thing for more. And if the employer can’t fill all of the required positions at the lower rate he will naturally be forced to pay more. I understand perfectly well that people go through hardships and are often put in a position where not accepting less pay means not bringing home any dinner, but when the pay becomes so low that it isn’t even enough for dinner then nobody who needs to eat will accept the job at all and wages will again go up.

        I know it isn’t quite so black and white, but my point is that it is easy to look at this and say that all business owners want to do is pay pennies and that a government mandated minimum wage is the only way to keep that from happening but that is simply not true. Business owners want the best value for their money just like consumers, and much like getting a haircut or getting your car fixed, you get what you pay for. I’d even go one step further to say that mandating a high minimum wage disenfranchises the workers themselves by taking away one of the few points they can use to compete with thus lumping them all together with no way to get a job other than being at the right place at the right time.

    • Tumi80

      you can’t be this dense. Do you understand what inflation is? $5 dollars in 1932 is not the same as in 1960 or 1990. Cost of living also goes up, meaning everything from toilet paper, diary products goes up. I remember when you could buy any candybar for .50 cents and a slice of pizza and a soda for 1.50. Now it’s a dollar for snickers and 5 for a slice and soda

      • BayResident

        My dear Tumi, you aren’t wrong, just a whole lot more “dense” then you’d like to believe yourself to be. Your lesson on inflation is greatly appreciated but it seems that while the rest of us are discussing whether it is fair to hire a worker who is willing and offering to work for less money than others, you are preoccupied with the $5 figure and how much junk food you can get for it in 1932.

        Look, I understand that you are saying that what these workers are being paid is not enough to live on, but you also have to understand that they are willfully employed and taking the job at these wages.

        If I told you that you can get your candy bar for .50 cents from the grocery store on Avenue Z or you can get the same candy bar from the grocery store on Avenue Y for $1.50 which one would you go for? Would you want the government stepping in and saying that the Avenue Z store MUST charge $1.50 like the Avenue Y store because the owner at Avenue Y needs to make more money or would you stop buying from the Avenue Y store until one of two things happens: the owner at Avenue Y lowers his price to compete with the Avenue Z store or the owner at Avenue Z also raises his price because he is no longer willing to accept less money?

        The point is, we are not here to give each other basic economics lessons, but we are also not discussing inflation or the value of $5. We are discussing a business owners right to get the most bang for his buck and the workers right to compete for a job.

  • ShadowLock

    someone should call Homeland Security……..

  • Arthur Borko

    Somehow I doubt someone working minimum wage can afford to own a car in NYC while also paying rent and living expenses. So how exactly are these workers going to boycott a business they can’t afford to be customers in to begin with?

    Perhaps they mean picket and disrupt?

  • Alex

    They are getting paid $5 check or cash? 

  • Beginablarp

    Which businesses are legally allowed to pay less than minimum wage because of tips? Never heard of any besides restaurants and bars using this pay scale. I don’t visit a car wash enough to know what an acceptable tip is, either. Can someone share that info?

  • Eric

    I frequent this car wash and I do not recognize any of the “workers” that are pictured here.

    • Zpoppin

      The protesters need to loudly sing a reworked version of the old Rose Royce hit.

      It just might work!

  • netsfan8

    the workers want more money , just like any service business, let them get more tips.boycott will not achive that mr union organizer…
     the union is going after small business now? so now we will pay car wash workers union pay? how much will car wash cost at union wages? $20 , $30 ,$40?
    what special skill is needed to work in a car wash? what union training needed?
    i am all for fair right of workers , and unions have their place .But,to protect workers rights there is our goverment isn’t there? isn’t there min’ mage?dept of labor?
     in service buisness such as car wash and restorants large part of the pay is tips. i wonder how much tips these guys got at this busy car wash? how much they declared?
    recently pablo complained about hours, has anybody looked at the weather latly? i do not wash my car in the rain or when it is going to rain. it sounds like the union dosn’t know about business. ( do cement guys pour in rain? do they work in freezing weather?)
    if all small business unionize that costs of everything will go up and then we all will need higher pay just to servive. will the small business pay the union dues? no the workers will , these workers will gain a litlle and then give it to the union right back. in the end price goes up !!!
    this is USA , not USSR or any other socilist country out there. all these people came here to work becouse conditions and pay are better in the USA . No body tied any body up or closed the doors on any body , we have laws here, if you don’t like your job get another. go to school improve yourself and make more money. this is the american way.
    we need to stop and think , why do we not make anything in the US anymore? are we going to wash our cars in china now too?

  • Guest

    Hmmmmmmmmm how much money are these protesters paying in taxes? Oh wait…..maybe they need some papers for that?????

    • Ilyasapozhnik

      Someone should call IRS, during the protest, to check their income tax.