Site for Day Laborers Suffering From Success

Times Staff Writer

"Tell the people in Hollywood, and the ones in Beverly Hills, to come pick someone up to clean their swimming pools or wash their cars."

Jose Luis Salcido, 24, unemployed, walked up and down the sidewalk, desperately flagging cars.

"Tell them to come," he pleaded. "Tell them we're hungry."

Six months ago representatives of Latino organizations struck an agreement with Glendale officials on a gathering site for day laborers, thereby averting a city proposal that would have made it illegal for people to solicit work on city property. It was a giant step toward solving an old problem.

The Catholic Youth Organization, or CYO, on San Fernando Road opened its doors in September to the 20 to 30 immigrants who used to look for work on a busy downtown Glendale corner next to a paint store. Dozens of contractors followed the laborers to the new site, and the program got off to a running start.

The site, however, has become too successful for its own good. The number of job seekers has tripled already and continues to grow, as immigrants from East Los Angeles to Venice beach, and everywhere in between, flock to the CYO every morning at dawn.

They come to Glendale, they say, because it's safe. It's the only publicly authorized pickup site for day laborers in Los Angeles County--the only site free of police and Immigration and Naturalization Service raids.

No longer confined to the CYO yard, as was intended, the laborers now occupy an entire block of sidewalk and sometimes more.

Contractors are mobbed by hungry job seekers as they approach, so only a determined few make it all they way to the site. Instead, most are picking up laborers on nearby street corners to avoid the thick of the crowd. By doing so, however, they encourage workers to venture farther and farther from the designated site.

Desperate Workers

As a result, there is less work to go around, and the workers are growing desperate. Less than 20% get picked up, and some don't get work for weeks, said Rick Reyes, a city official who oversees the program.

Mike Perry, a nearby resident, pulls in every day, awaited like a Messiah. He brings free food, but not enough. Fifteen large bags of potato chips will last less than five minutes. Two bundles of bananas are claimed even faster. There is nothing else to go around.

Reyes visits the site daily and tells workers to stay in front of the CYO. A few won't listen, he says. Because they don't, they have a better chance of being picked up. The ones who do obey head back to the street corners as soon as Reyes leaves.

Inside the CYO there is little to cheer about. Parents have begun to pull their children out of the center's day-care programs out of fear of the crowd of unknowns, said CYO Director Luisa Chavez. Other CYO programs are suffering as well, she said.

The pressures present tough choices for the group of city, Latino and CYO representatives sponsoring the effort. The workers must be organized and their numbers controlled, they say, if the program is to survive. They are scrambling for funds to pay for on-site organizers and preparing to cut the number of day laborers and pull them back into the CYO.

Identification Cards

Eduardo Gonzalez, of the Central American Refugee Center in Los Angeles and supervisor of the laborers, has began issuing identification cards to workers willing to provide a photograph and fill out an application. Eventually, he said, access to the job site will be restricted to the first 30 to 40 laborers who obtain cards. He has issued 18 cards so far.

With the numbers trimmed, Gonzalez said, the mobbing of cars would be avoided. Contractors would pull into the CYO parking lot, walk up to an on-site supervisor and make their request. The supervisors would distribute jobs systematically, either by lottery or on first-come basis.

Workers who did not get identification cards would be pressured to solicit work outside Glendale. For them, Gonzalez said, relief may be only weeks away. Last February, the Los Angeles City Council approved $90,000 to open six designated pick-up sites similar to Glendale's. They will open, Gonzalez hopes, in a month or two.

Gonzalez, Chavez and Reyes will meet next week with other members of the group that organized the day laborer program.

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