Attorney General James Secures Over $500,000 For Over 150 Car Wash Workers

Attorney General James Secures Over
$500,000 for Over 150 Car Wash Workers

NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James today announced the settlement of a lawsuit totaling $530,000 with Brooklyn-based Tropical Breeze Car Wash, its owner, Benno Gmuer, and managers, Philip Gmuer and Gregory Gmuer for cheating over 150 minimum wage car wash workers out of more than $500,000 in wages and benefits.

The Attorney General filed a lawsuit in January 2018 in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Kings County, alleging that Tropical Breeze cheated car wash workers out of minimum wage and overtime pay and committed other violations under the New York Labor Law, the New York unemployment insurance law, the New York Workers’ Compensation Law, and the Earned Sick Time Act. In May 2019, the Court found the defendants liable for all violations alleged by the Attorney General, leaving only the question of damages to be resolved.

“Car wash workers do the dirty work of cleaning up New York’s vehicles, and they deserve every penny and protection afforded to them under the law,” said Attorney General James. “My office will continue to fight for these workers and hold unscrupulous employers accountable who exploit these workers for their own gain.”

“The Attorney General’s settlement with Tropical Breeze Car Wash is a long-awaited victory for workers,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).“Unfortunately, this case, as well as many others, is an example of how unscrupulous employers try to exploit the system to make a profit off the backs of immigrant workers. We have long advocated for stronger enforcement of the car wash industry where wage theft is far too common. We are grateful for the efforts of Attorney General Tish James for ensuring the system stands for workers and for sending a clear and strong message to employers that wage theft will not be tolerated in New York State."

“The workers of Tropical Breeze faced some of the worst exploitation and abuse I have heard of in an industry that was historically rife with exploitation. That they are finally getting meaningful compensation for that suffering is critical to the fight to win workplaces of dignity and respect in this state,” said Deborah Axt, Co-Executive Director at Make the Road New York. “Thank you to the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union and New York Communities for Change for working with us to help these workers bring their case forward. And to Attorney General Tish James and her team for having their backs all the way.”

In addition to the monetary compensation, as part of the settlement, Tropical Breeze agreed to implement new policies, informing employees of their rights under the law, and to provide and require training for its employees and managers on overtime, minimum wage, spread of hours, call-in pay, wage notices, payment statements, and anti-retaliation protections under the New York Labor Law and paid time off protections under the Earned Sick Time Act.

The settlement is part of the Attorney General’s ongoing efforts to root out labor law violations and gain restitution for workers in the car wash industry in New York. The Attorney General thanks the Retail Workers and Department Store Workers Union (RWDSU) and Make the Road New York for referring the case to the Labor Bureau.

The case was handled by Civil Enforcement Section Chief Ming-Qi Chu, Special Counsel Sara Mark, and Assistant Attorney General Jessica Agarwal, under the supervision of Acting Labor Bureau Chief Julie R. Ulmet, with the assistance of Director of Research & Analytics Jonathan Werberg and Investigator Eddie Ortiz. The Social Justice Division is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux.