5 Star Car Wash in Elmont on March 23, 2017.

5 Star Car Wash in Elmont on March 23, 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

ALBANY – State legislators approved a bill Thursday that would require downstate car wash workers to be paid minimum wage.

 The state Assembly easily passed the bill, 82-37; the state Senate approved it a day earlier. If Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signs the legislation, it would end a practice whereby car wash workers were paid below minimum wage with the expectation they'd more than make up for it in tips. Critics warned it would lead to layoffs and more automation.

The legislation applies to car wash workers on Long Island and in New York City and Westchester County. Workers would get minimum wage and employers wouldn’t be able to reduce that amount by deducting for tips. Previous versions of the bill failed in part because they applied statewide, which drew upstate opposition.

Assemb. Marcus Crespo (D-Bronx) said audits have found car wash workers to be frequent victims of “wage theft” – that is, even with tips, they weren’t making minimum wage.

“We’re just ensuring these workers actually receive the wages they’re supposed to,” Crespo, the bill sponsor, said during the Assembly debate.

Downstate, the current minimum wage is $15 per hour for companies with 11 employees or more; $13.50 per hour for those with fewer. But it will increase to $15 per hour for all businesses on Dec. 31.

Opponents said the mandate might backfire and hurt workers by encouraging employers to move to automated systems. They likened it to the increase in ordering “kiosks” in fast-food restaurants since minimum wage was increased in 2016.

“We’re seeing in restaurants a lot more automated machines,” Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-Huntington) said. “In this day and age, it is very easy to automate a car wash and I am concerned a lot of individuals are going to lose their jobs.”

A spokesman for Cuomo didn’t indicate how the governor would act on the bill, but merely said the administration will “certainly consider any legislation that builds upon this and helps lift working people out of poverty.”

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