Success of Day Labor Hiring Site Delays Council Curbs
The success of an officially sanctioned hiring site for day laborers in Glendale led the City Council on Tuesday to postpone for a year action on a proposed ordinance that would have prohibited day laborers from soliciting work on street corners.
City Manager David H. Ramsay told the council that almost no workers are gathering at the corner of Jackson Street and Broadway, where merchants once complained that groups of up to 50 workers were blocking the sidewalks and causing traffic congestion.
An alternative pickup site for the workers was established at a Catholic Youth Organization preschool by an “action committee” of city officials, immigrants’ rights activists, laborers and local businessmen. Workers began gathering at the new site on San Fernando Road in south Glendale on Sept. 28.
“The cooperation from the workers has been fantastic,” said Herman Sillas, a member of the committee and a consultant to the city on human rights issues. “You can’t speak highly enough of the workers’ efforts.”
‘Nobody Bothers Us’
Most of the 30 or so workers who gathered at the CYO facility one morning last week said they are satisfied with the new hiring site.
“It’s good, better than before,” said Cesar Guzman, a 21-year-old Guatemalan immigrant and a Glendale resident. “We have our own bathroom here, and nobody bothers us,” he said in Spanish.
Some workers said being at an officially sanctioned site has given them a new-found sense of unity. “We want people to realize that we are organized,” said Alexander Hernandez, a Salvadoran immigrant who said he works to support his wife and 10-month-old son.
CYO officials let the laborers congregate on their property from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays. After 9 a.m., the workers gather on the sidewalk in front of the center, where city traffic officials have painted a white loading zone on the curb to let contractors park while they hire the workers.
Laborers Also Contribute
Seven Glendale businesses have contributed $300 each to cover costs at the site, including the rental of a portable toilet, said Rob Smith, president of Sierra Leasing and a member of the action committee. The laborers also have contributed money to help cover costs, he said.
“The workers there keep the place really clean and leave it nice for the kids coming in after them,” Smith said. “They really are proud and want to do what they can to carry their own weight.”
Some of the workers at the site said they believe that many of the contractors who used to go to Jackson Street and Broadway are not coming to the new site. Painters are finding it especially difficult to find work, some workers said.
But Cesar Bendana, a native of Nicaragua, said he was hired four times in 4 days last week. On Monday, he did landscaping work, on Tuesday he cleaned out ovens at a factory, on Wednesday he worked pouring concrete, and on Thursday he put up fences. All the jobs paid between $5 and $6 per hour, he said.
At least 20 workers find employment at the site each day, said Jose Galdamez, 34, who was elected by the workers to be their representative in talks with city officials. The workers are employed an average of 3 days a week and earn about $50 per day. “A lot of new people are arriving,” he said in Spanish, including a group of 20 men from a village in Guatemala, who arrived together at the site last week.
The number of workers on street corners in Glendale and other cities in Southern California increased dramatically this summer after the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service began enforcing provisions of a new immigration law that imposes stiff penalties on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. The law has forced many immigrant laborers out of factories and onto street corners, where employers rarely ask them for documents.
Redondo Beach passed a law banning the hiring of laborers from street corners earlier this year. In October, Costa Mesa opened a city-run hiring hall for workers who are legal residents, but prohibited undocumented immigrants from using the facility.
Richard Reyes, community relations coordinator for Glendale, said the city did not consider the laborers’ immigration status when organizing the alternative hiring site. “We’re looking at the issue of men on the corner, not illegal or legal men on the corner,” he said. “It’s not the city’s role to determine the status of the workers.”
The Glendale City Council was first scheduled to vote on the proposed ordinance Aug. 9, but postponed the vote after immigrant activists and workers said the law would violate the workers’ civil rights. The vote was postponed again in October after the Catholic Youth Organization offered its facility as an alternative pickup site.
On Tuesday, the City Council voted unanimously to postpone action on the ordinance for a year, despite a request from City Manager Ramsay that the council vote to rescind the ordinance outright, as “an important and symbolic statement that the program is working.”
Immigrants’ rights activists said they are pleased with the council’s decision to table the ordinance but are disappointed that the council did not vote to rescind it. “We were hoping that it would be voted down completely,” said Diane Jacoby of El Rescate, an organization for refugee rights.
Several members of the action committee said the alternative site will be a model for other cities where large numbers of day laborers gather. “People are really watching Glendale,” said Nancy Cervantes of the Central American Refugee Center. “It looks hopeful that we can duplicate this in other areas.”
Volunteers from the refugee center, El Rescate, and the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles will continue working at the intersection of Broadway and Jackson Street to ensure that employers travel to the San Fernando Road location, Cervantes said.
On Saturday morning, volunteers posted signs at a convenience store and walked along Jackson Street with sandwich boards announcing, “This is not the place to pick up day laborers.” Cervantes said the volunteers will remain at the intersection for a week.