The city's car wash industry is warning of higher prices and fewer workers as it struggles to adjust to an increase in the state's minimum wage. Bronx reporter Erin Clarke has the story.
Twenty? Thirty? Maybe even $40 for a car wash.
That's what owners of these car washes claim they'll be forced to charge when the minimum wage in New York rises to $15 dollars.
"People are going to stop coming to car washes," said Frank Roman, owner of the Sunny Day Car Wash.
Car washes have been in the middle of a fight between unions and advocates to raise the minimum wage. Many workers in the industry are undocumented immigrants who, advocates say, are easily exploited because they are afraid to speak out and unionize.
The battle ended this spring when state lawmakers and Governor Cuomo agreed to approve an increase. In the city, it will be phased in through 2019.
Now the car wash owners have to adjust.
"These employees have been with me a long time," said Roman. "I have employees that have been here for ten years, fifteen years."
Frank Roman, who owns Sunny Day Car Wash in Port Morris and several others in the city, says he is considering more automation, which would replace some workers with machines.
"The more our labor price goes up, the more our selling price goes up and obviously the sales go down, why?" said Steven Rotlevi, Association of Carwash Owners of New York City. "Because people would like to pay $10 for a wash."
The union representing car wash workers argues that increasing the minimum wage will give consumers more money to spend on things like car washes, ultimately helping businesses and the economy.
But the Association of Car Wash Owners, a trade group, says the industry suffered a blow when the minimum wage increased to $9 an hour at the start of the year, and car washes hiked prices.
"Where I had customers come in once a week, they come in once a month now, so the cost of labor goes up, less flow of customers are going to come through the wash," Rotlevi said.
Roman predicts the impact this time around to be even worse.
With automation, owners say, they will have to buy and install expensive machinery — a cost that could still be passed on to customers.