Why I was arrested today

Why I was arrested today

Over the past few months, our community has supported the struggle of the carwasheros at Vegas Car Wash on 19th Street in Park Slope. We have stood with them as they have demanded repayment of $1 million in wages stolen from them, organized to form a union, and demanded a simple, fair contract (to read about the unfair practices these workers are protesting, read my previous post or this  WNYC article).

They aren’t demanding anything extravagant. Even with a contract, these will still be low-wage jobs. They just want – no, they just insist – on being treated like human beings, with some basic dignity.

After seeing the carwasheros newly-formed union denied, their conditions worsen, and their presence day-in-and-day-out at the picket lines throughout a freezing cold winter, I can no longer remain on the sidelines.

So a few minutes ago -- in an act of civil disobedience -- I was arrested along with several labor leaders, community members, workers, and fellow elected officials for standing up against the injustices happening at our neighborhood car wash.

I’m proud of the compassion our community has shown for the carwasheros, from dropping off coffee and food at the picket line, to raising over $10,000 for their strike fund, to marching with us today. In particular, my synagogue, Kolot Chayeinu (led by Rabbi Ellen Lippmann) has really taken this cause to heart.The arrests made today show that our community will not stand for this injustice, and we are willing to stand up and speak out for the dignity of workers.The courage and commitment of Luis Garcia, Rogelio Lara, Angel Robelledo, and the other workers who have risked everything in the name of their rights is remarkable and inspiring. It is humbling to stand beside them in their cause.

As we were arrested today, I was inspired by the struggle of the 262 Brooklyn Cablevision workers who finally saw victory in their three-year-long fight for better treatment and greater respect. Those workers, like the carwasheros, had the courage to form a union. Like the other 15,000 Cablevision workers in the region, they knew the company was treating them unfairly. Unlike the other 15,000 workers, the 262 workers in Brooklyn had the courage to do something about it.

Through their act of courage, these workers quickly won big raises and improved conditions for 15,000 other workers – and finally, after three very difficult years, for themselves as well.  The heroic actions of this small band of workers won benefits for a group of people 500 times their size. That’s how organizing can work.

That’s what can happen when workers stand up for their rights, and when their community stands with them.

I’m in favor of raising the minimum wage, paid sick days, pre-k for all, and other public policies that help to level the playing field. But there is something transformative about workers standing up for themselves.

It is easy to decry income inequality. But it is hard to risk your job, endure abuse, face conflict, and speak like an equal human being when working under a cruel owner like Marat Leschinksy, or a boss like Cablevision’s Jim Dolan. But that’s the exact risk these workers took.

And that’s why I’m willing to put myself on the line in solidarity, to be arrested in support of their cause. For their wages, yes. But even more because their insistence on human dignity can have ripple effects far beyond their struggle.

The bravery of these workers and the compassion of the entire community of supporters that marched today will win out against the owner’s cruelty. But until it does, I feel privileged to stand on the picket lines, in handcuffs, and in their fight.