League City slapped with day labor lawsuit

By Erik Barajas | Source: ABC/KTRK TV – Houston, health TX | Friday, site July 22, store 2011

A fight in League City over day labor. Workers have filed a lawsuit, claiming police are harassing them, preventing them from getting daily jobs.

Back in 2009, League City Police Chief Michael Jez began what he called a crackdown on day laborers, and now a group of day laborers is suing the police department for what they call outrageous fines and false arrests.

Isaias Leiva is waiting for work, under a carport in League City. It was four years ago he came here from Honduras looking, he says, for a better future for his family.

Leiva says League City police have not made it any easier for day laborers, and now a lawsuit hopes to stop what many day laborers call harassment by police.

Business owner Randy Wagoner, who was just dropping off a day laborer, says he’s witnessed the harassment.

“They have to make a living like everybody else. They got bills and they got family,” Wagoner said.

He says day laborers help him provide service in League City.

A lawn maintenance crew hired to mow League City easements actually hired to day laborers that were promoted to full time, but a lawsuit says harassment by officers must stop.

On behalf of day laborers, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund has filed a lawsuit against League City Police Department to stop them from targeting day workers with tickets up to a $1,000 and even imprisonment.

“In America, everyone has a right to freedom of speech whether you’re looking for day work like my clients or whether you’re seeking a contribution for your church or asking for spare change on a street corner; you’re entitled to express your self that way,” said Marisa Bono, an attorney involved in the day labor lawsuit.

Oddly enough, the lawsuit seeks what some League City business owners have been calling for — a solution.

“The city ought to make areas for them to go to or make a program for them to go to and be picked up everyday,” Wagoner said.

The laborers only brought their lawsuit after the city declined to negotiate. They have also included Governor Rick Perry over the constitutionality of a person’s right to look for work in public.

The League City Police Department is not commenting, instead they referred us to their attorney who said he has not had time to digest the lawsuit.

(Copyright ©2011 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

LA day laborers double as actors to teach, empower

AMY TAXIN, check Associated Press | Updated 12:35 a.m., Sunday, July 24, 2011| Source: MySanAntonio.com

In this photo taken July 11, 2011, day laborer Xico Paredes, left, dressed as a Sheriff, performs during a play at the Carecen job center in Los Angeles. Cornerstone Theater Company and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) have formed a partnership in the creation of a traveling theater troupe made up entirely of day laborers in Los Angeles. Photo: Damian Dovarganes / AP

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Most days, they are construction workers and painters and maids.

But twice a year, this group of day laborers morphs into actors in a traveling street theater troupe that performs at the very job centers where they and others gather to seek work across Southern California.

Blending at-times bawdy humor with a serious message about employer abuses, the Los Angeles-based Day Laborer Theater Without Borders has helped teach illegal immigrants with little education or knowledge of the law about their rights in this country.

Some who push for tougher border enforcement questioned whether the effort encourages illegal immigration. But advocates say the group and others like it elsewhere in the U.S. have done more to educate and empower workers than lectures or handouts ever could.

In this photo taken July 11, 2011, day laborers watch a performance at the Carecen job center in Los Angeles. Cornerstone Theater Company and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) have formed a partnership in the creation of a traveling theater troupe made up entirely of day laborers in Los Angeles. Photo: Damian Dovarganes / AP

“When they take it to the streets, to the corners, they use the language that day laborers use because they know it,” said Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which helps fund the theater troupe. “The minute they start doing that, people gather around just like that.”

The troupe had its start three years ago when day laborers found themselves at the heart of a heated national debate over illegal immigration. Now, the group is helping other troupes get going in San Francisco and Maryland, while a similar group already exists in New Orleans.

On a recent weekday morning, three dozen day laborers waiting for construction gigs at a hiring site in Los Angeles filed inside and grabbed seats on folding chairs to watch the troupe’s first performance of a two-week summer tour.

The first skit was called “Modern Slavery.” Two actors wearing blue uniforms hurried to the front of the hiring center, where space had been set aside for a makeshift stage. Cracking jokes rife with sexual innuendo and slang, the pair complained about the conditions at their office-cleaning job where an abusive boss tried to get his female subordinate to do more than just wash floors.

Played by another laborer, the English-barking suit-wearing boss admired the woman from behind while she scrubbed the floor — drawing laughter from the nearly all-male audience. But when he propositioned her and threatened to call immigration if she dared report him to police, the workers watching the show grew more serious.

In this photo taken July 11, 2011, day laborer Juan Romero, left, and Cornertone Theater Company Associate Artistic Director Lorena Moran perform a play at the Carecen job center in Los Angeles. Cornerstone Theater Company and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) have formed a partnership in the creation of a traveling theater troupe made up entirely of day laborers in Los Angeles. Photo: Damian Dovarganes / AP

Actors said the story line, crafted jointly during rehearsals, drew from their own experiences — which is why workers could relate to it.

“Most of us who come here, not many have schooling,” said 62-year-old Prospero Leon, a painter from Guatemala whose face lit up during the comedic parts of the performance. “They’re interested in knowing their rights.”

The idea for the theater group dates back to a 2007 production about the experiences of day laborers entitled “Los Illegals” by the Cornerstone Theater Company, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps build community theater. Several workers acted in the play written by Cornerstone’s artistic director Michael John Garces, and one of them later adapted the script for an ad-hoc performance at a conference of day laborers near Washington D.C.

That set the stage for the formation of a theater troupe by and for day laborers under the tutelage of Salvadoran immigrant worker-turned-artistic director, Juan Jose Magandi. In the 1990s, day laborers had mounted a similar traveling theater group but struggled with logistical problems and the cast disbanded.

“In our countries, the theater is from very elitist movements,” Magandi said. “We try to do theater from below — that’s why we use their vocabulary, their style and we share their experiences.”

Garces, who advises the current group and has helped bring acting and voice experts to train laborers as volunteer actors, said the tradition of street theater in Latin America and the fiery speeches and border-watching groups active in the immigration debate made theater a perfect fit for the subject.

Alvarado, of the national day laborer organization, said the feedback from audiences has been anecdotal but positive. The troupe has been funded by the organization and grants from groups such as the Ford Foundation and Open Society Foundations to the tune of roughly $80,000 a year.

One person is paid to help run the troupe and actors are given $75 a month for bus passes to get to rehearsals and a $50 stipend for days when they perform, said Lorena Moran, the group’s associate artistic director.

In this photo taken July 11, 2011, from left, day laborers Sandra Borga, Cesar Munoz and Dorian Vazquez perform a play at the Carecen job center in Los Angeles. Cornerstone Theater Company and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) have formed a partnership in the creation of a traveling theater troupe made up entirely of day laborers in Los Angeles. Photo: Damian Dovarganes / AP

Roughly half a dozen actors will perform two different plays at 10 different job centers through July 29. The group rehearses twice a week for three or four months leading up to each tour.

Some advocates for tougher immigration enforcement questioned whether the effort might be going too far, arguing such performances shouldn’t encourage workers to flout the law.

“It’s always good for people to know their rights, but we also have to be careful we’re not going anything to encourage illegal immigration,” said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies.

In Los Angeles, organizers said the plays can be therapeutic for workers who are often reluctant to share their experiences of employer abuse, discrimination and loneliness. The skits have also lifted the spirits of those who have joined the troupe’s rotating cast, which currently has about a dozen members, though they don’t all perform on every tour.

Moran said the group saved her from falling into depression after she came to the U.S. from Guatemala. She was working construction gigs she landed outside Home Depot, often the only woman on a job.

“The theater is what brought me back to life,” said Moran, a 39-year-old college graduate who started as a volunteer actor and is now paid to administer the group full-time.

Juan Romero, 49, said he was shy before he joined the cast, though he always liked to sing and write poetry. Now, the Salvadoran immigrant bellows out his roles with ease — and he thinks that confidence has also translated to his real life as a gardener and construction worker.

During the recent performance in Los Angeles, Romero played the immigrant laborer whose wife was being harassed by the couple’s boss. When his character learned what was really going on, he stood up for her, even though they lost their jobs in the process.

“The message we relay is that we’re day laborers, and we have rights,” Romero said. “We can’t let ourselves get trampled by other people, no matter how poor we are.”

Closure of Glendale center hurts day laborers

Closure of Glendale center hurts day laborers

By Susan Abram, Staff Writer | Posted: 07/22/2011 09:20:50 PM PDT | Source: DailyNews.com

 

Closure of Glendale center hurts day laborers

Day laborers hang out on Harvard Street west of San Fernando Road outside the Home Depot in Glendale on July 20, try 2011. A day-labor center at the location has been closed due to budget cuts. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

The day-labor center built alongside the railroad tracks on San Fernando Road in Glendale was a modest structure, where vines of honeysuckle dangled over a fence and men and women gathered daily.

There was a restroom and picnic tables and nice people who came by and taught English or offered basic medical care.

For Miguel Nunez and the nearly 100 other day laborers and housekeepers who frequented the site each morning, the center meant protection from exploitive employers.

It also meant the crowds of day laborers stayed away from Home Depot and other unofficial gathering spots that often disturbed customers and neighbors.

 

Closure of Glendale center hurts day laborers

Miguel Nunez hangs out near the parking lot at Home Depot at the intersection of Harvard Street and San Fernando Road in Glendale on July 20, 2011. The Temporary Skilled Worker Center accross the street has been closed due to budget cuts. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

But the center closed last month, one of several Los Angeles area sites that have shut down recently because of the bad economy.Now, Nunez and dozens of other day laborers wait outside the Home Depot – across the street from the shuttered center – hoping to be paid fair wages for the manual work they’re hired to do.

“An employer will tell you they’ll give you $15 an hour, then after you’ve worked all day, they’ll pay you $40 and say, `That’s all I have,”‘ said Nunez, who has been a day laborer for 17 of his 46 years.

“Sometimes, they just don’t pay at all,” he said.

Opened in 1997 in response to complaints about day laborers lingering on corners or running toward construction trucks, the Glendale labor center was regarded as one of the nation’s most innovative. Officials came from as far as New York and New Jersey to see how it worked.

Catholic Charities operated the center, where day laborers congregated and employers negotiated wages.

In its first few years, it was funded by Community Development Block Grants and federal funds, then later by the city of Glendale. It closed on June 30, one of three shut down recently in Los Angeles.

“The whole purpose of the day laborer site was so we could improve the quality of life in the area,” said Glendale city spokesman Tom Lorenz.

But some of those funding streams began to dwindle and others were diverted to different programs. At the same time, labor organizations filed a lawsuit against a Glendale ordinance that prohibited anyone from soliciting a job near a business.

The ordinance was eventually struck down in 2006 and many men began going back to the corners to seek jobs, Lorenz said.

In the meantime, the city of Glendale paid nearly $90,000 year to keep the site open but decided last month it could not afford it anymore.

“The center suffered the consequences of those (federal) cuts” and the lawsuit, Lorenz said.

“During a budget crisis, it comes down to dollars and cents.”

A spokesman for Home Depot said the company respects Glendale’s decisions. Officially, Home Depot does not allow day laborers to solicit work on company property, but it cannot prevent the laborers from gathering on the public sidewalk nearby.

“Regardless of the closure, we maintain a nonsolicitation policy at our stores. As for other closings, we’re not aware of any other center closings (other than Glendale), and we really feel it’s a decision for the city leaders,” said Steve Holmes, a corporate spokesman for Home Depot.

While day-laborer rights groups hesitate to call the closures a trend, they remain troubled.

“As you see unemployment rise you see more people entering an unconventional job market and then you see more unscrupulous employers trying to take advantage of people’s circumstances,” said B. Loewe, a spokesman for the National Organizing Day Laborer Network, one of the organizations that fought Glendale’s nonsolicitation ordinance.

“The more people looking for work, the more abuse is likely to occur, which makes worker centers more important than most think,” Loewe said.

The closing of local centers doesn’t seem to be a national trend, he said. Across the nation, centers are opening in Connecticut, Virginia and North Carolina.

“They realize it’s because of the crucial role (the centers) are playing,” Loewe said.

Others believe that communities and police departments can work together to maintain formal areas where day laborers could gather.

“The police can be a very strong partner in building free, open zones,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

“These centers offer education opportunities, food, medical services and a basic level of protection. Physical abuse, sexual abuse or not being paid, day laborers have always been victims of those abuses, but being at the center allows for certain levels of respect and accountability.”

But even centers that have that community support are struggling.

“The economy has affected us, too,” said Oscar Mondragon, director of the operations for the Malibu Community Labor Exchange, which opened in 1993.

“A month ago, we were looking at shutting it down,” Mondragon said.

Thanks to fundraisers, the center will remain open for now. But times are tough, Mondragon said, even in Malibu.

Moeed Khan, regional director for Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, said he was uncertain if the Glendale center will reopen.

It comes down to who will step up to help with funding the site so that basic utilities can be paid.

“I was very proud of the center,” Khan said. “I’m sad that it closed. It is a reflection of the times.”

Nunez, the man who waited on Wednesday morning outside Home Depot for a job, said since the recession, he now works three days a week instead of six.

He said he hopes the city reconsiders its funding.

“I have faith it will open again,” he said. “These bad times can’t last forever.”

President Obama’s Credibility Gap On Display at NCLR Convention

Washington, DC.
In response to President Obama’s speech today at the annual convention of the National Council de la Raza, Pablo Alvarado, Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network issued this statement:
“Despite soaring rhetoric, the President’s unbridled enforcement of unjust and outdated immigration laws has contributed to an unprecedented civil rights crisis for our community. And his administration has deported over one million people, surpassing the total number of people removed during Operation Wetback. The President can now claim the title, deporter-in-chief.
We know ICE has gone rogue, but we’re starting to feel like the President is going rogue on immigration too. It is not enough for him to blame Congress or to bemoan the difficulty of his job. He can- and must- take action to protect members of our community who are under siege.
The President can use existing authority to move the country in the right direction. He should take swift action to prevent the Arizonification of the country by refusing to let local police act as agents of deportation. For example, the President should, as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has requested, immediately suspend the Se Communities program until the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General can complete her report. At this rate, President Obama’s S-Comm policy will go down in history with Eisenhower’s ‘Operation Wetback.’ Both have the same pernicious consequences, but one has a better speech writer.” …