Immigration law uncertainty hangs over Hispanic neighborhoods

Source: East Valley Tribune
updated 4/18/2011 12:46:11 PM ET

Adan Gallegos stands with a crowd of day laborers waiting on job offers in front of the Circle K convenience store in Chandler’s “Little Sonora” neighborhood.

On this day, there are about a dozen men alongside him near the corner store at 295 S. Arizona Ave. — which fronts the neighborhood of small apartments and mobile home parks where residents say at least 90 percent of the people are from the Mexican state of Sonora.

“The crowd waiting out here used to be bigger, ” says Gallegos, 38, who has lived in the neighborhood south of downtown Chandler for about 20 years. “Not anymore.”

“I used to watch the news about SB 1070. I think it was to scare people out of town. A lot of the people I used to see, I don’t see anymore. They either moved out of state or back to Mexico.”

It’s been one year since Senate Bill 1070 was passed by the Arizona Legislature and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer. The state’s controversial undocumented immigration bill — which makes it a crime for Mexican nationals to live in Arizona — sparked cheers from many, and fury from others. Debates about SB 1070 took place from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. Opponents marched. Supporters tried to strike up copycat bills in other communities. Entertainers, businesses and even community leaders in other states cried foul and called for boycotts.

Since then, legal experts on both sides have fought over the measure. But while much of the teeth of the new law is still tied up in court, the bill’s impact can be felt in communities like Little Sonora. Whether completely because of SB 1070 or the combination of Arizona’s 9 percent unemployment and scarcity of jobs, people have left.

The Centre De Trabajo — Day Labor Center — sits behind the Free Methodist Church on Arizona Avenue, across the street from the Circle K. From the church, Rev. Jose Gonzalez can see the crowd of men hoping for employment. Last year, he said, the crowd of men on the corner was about double.

“Things are slowly picking back up,” Gonzalez said. “This year has been a little better, but we still don’t see the number of people here that we used to.”

Gallegos said that’s because the economy is bad and it’s still difficult to get a job.

“There’s been a lot of changes. The neighborhood is different now,” Gallegos said. “When I go to Mexican businesses and grocery stores, there’s barely any Hispanic people anymore. They’re scared.”

A year after the bill was signed, the Hispanic community is “uncertain,” with some debating whether to stay as the school year comes to an end, said Mesa Unified School District community liaison Deanna Villanueva-Saucedo.

“The hysteria died down, but it’s been replaced by this continual uncertainty,” she said. “Mesa has great heart and community connections. To see that level of uncertainty is disheartening because it’s not what community should be about.”

When classes began last August, Mesa leaders were surprised to find that about 2,400 students did not return to their schools.

At the time, some of the blame was put on the fears felt by the community because of SB 1070.

As the district looks to next year, an even sharper decline is predicted — about 2,800 students. But there are other factors at play: foreclosures, jobs losses and pay cuts.

“We really work at making that personal contact with family. It goes beyond this issue. It’s just exasperated,” Villanueva-Saucedo said.

Businesses have felt the loss of people — and their dollars — as well.

“Since 2007, we’ve lost about 75 percent of our business,” said Nino Mihilli, 30, who works at the Mama Mia Market, his family’s business at 731 S. Arizona Ave. “These laws have added fuel to the fire and have chased businesses and people out of the state. It is killing the economy on all levels and chasing away the purchasing power of the state.

“If we did not own the property, we would’ve closed our business a long time ago,” Mihilli added. “We started losing business after the E-Verify law was passed in the summer of 2007. Then it was Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s raids. It was just blow after blow after blow.”

Mihilli’s family is Italian and moved to Arizona from Detroit about 20 years ago, seeking better jobs and more opportunities. He received a degree in business management from Arizona State University and also runs an insurance company. In the 10 years the market has been in business, it has expanded from 1,200 square feet to 6,000, Mihilli said.

“We’ve grown with Chandler and the neighborhood, and then it all came tumbling down,” he said. “Not so long ago, people couldn’t find a place to live in the neighborhood. Now, go to any trailer park or apartment complex — everything is available.”

In fact, Mihilli has written a screenplay, “The Mexican Dream,” taking what he calls a reverse approach to immigration — Americans are the immigrants and find themselves in the roles of the Mexicans, Mihilli said.

“The ethnic community is a very simple community,” he said. “The majority of all nationalities are here for a proper cause, mostly to work. This country was built on immigrants, and I don’t think that Arizona’s leadership is consistent in recognizing that.”

In west Mesa, where roadside Mexican restaurants dot Main Street, Luis Mesqueda has owned Adrian’s No. 2 Mexican Restaurant at 1011 W. Main for 15 years. He didn’t think he was going to make it past his 14th year because of looming implications from SB 1070 and customers moving out of state.

“I’ve lost more than 50 percent of my business,” Mesqueda said. “The government? Phfffft! This is worse now, and it’s not going to change, but we’re hanging in there. It can’t get any worse. We’re there now.”

The debate that SB 1070 stirred crosses cultures, political standing and residency status. Opinions about the end result of the legislation — and how many people left Arizona because of it — will likely do the same.

“People want to isolate the issue, but there are so many things tied to it,” Villanueva-Saucedo said. “It can’t be just pigeonholed to that. … So many other factors are going on in our community: the housing crunch, the economy issues. People have to go where they can find jobs.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or mreese@evtrib.com

The Battle of Arizona… In California

Californians took a turn against the Arizonification of immigration policy and took a step toward standards we expect and the oversight we deserve when the state passed the TRUST Act out of its assembly’s public safety committee this week.

The modest bill meant to improve public safety, foster transparency, and protect civil rights following the botched expansion of the Se Communities program, now makes California a national focal point for the next phase of the battles over Arizona-style immigration policies that would convert police into enforcers of our nation’s broken, and unjust, immigration laws.

Newly Disclosed Documents Reveal ICE Deliberately Misled California Officials about S-Comm to Stem Opposition

(Los Angeles) Today, advocates in California made public hundreds of emails between federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and California officials regarding the “activation” of California’s cities and counties in ICE’s controversial “Se Communities” (S-Comm) program, which ensnares local police in federal immigration enforcement efforts. The documents were obtained by the National Day Laborer Organization, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Cardozo Immigrant Justice Clinic through Freedom of Information Act litigation.
The emails reveal a federal agency in state of disarray, and a chorus of questions and complaints from California cities and counties wary of thrusting their police into the role of immigration enforcers.
“The domino effect is starting,” wrote an unidentified ICE official on May 25, 2010.(1) Questions about S-Comm were rolling in after strong opposition from San Francisco and Santa Clara County. Marin County’s Juvenile Probation Office was “quite agitated about [S-Comm] being ‘forced’ on them.”(2) San Mateo and Riverside County were requesting clarification on how they could opt-out of the program.(3) Sonoma County representatives were “upset” about receiving misleading information from ICE.(4) The ICE official frantically sought “messaging that can help . . . keep them on board.”(5)
“The ‘messaging’ ICE settled on, the emails show, centered on deliberately misleading California officials – from county sheriffs to Congressional representatives – about S-Comm’s voluntary nature, and about what ‘opting out’ of the program entailed,” explains Chris Newman, Legal Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. Information provided to Santa Clara County in May 2010 was approved over the phone, rather than in writing, to “give[] them plausible deniability if this Santa Clara thing goes south.”(6) Top-level ICE officers provided vastly different definitions of opt out to concerned California officials, some of which were purposely crafted to be misleading.(7) An FBI employee observing the process noted, “It amazes me that we are all in the same room and he thinks this [opt out messaging] is consistent.”(8)
Confusion about S-Comm went beyond the feasibility of opting out. “The emails also reveal confusion about the legal authority for the program and its true focus” says Angela Chan, Staff Attorney with the Asian Law Caucus. Despite concerns raised by then-Attorney General Jerry Brown as early as September 2010 about whether S-Comm was picking up minor offenders and traffic violators, ICE publicly insisted that S-comm focused on deporting convicted criminals.(9)
ICE officials also scrambled to identify legal authority for the program. In early presentations to the California Department of Justice, they apparently relied on a section of Proposition 187 that had been struck down by California Courts as unconstitutional.(10) In fact, later emails clarify, “There is no legislation that makes [Se Communities] mandatory.”(11)
The Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools Act (“TRUST ACT”), currently scheduled to be heard in the public safety committee of the California Assembly on April 26th, aims to fix the ways that S-Comm’s misleading focus, over-broad reach and lack of transparency have eroded trust between police and immigrant communities and sparked considerable open government concerns. The TRUST Act would honor the right of local governments to opt out of the troubled S-Comm program. The Act also sets basic safeguards for those that do participate in the program to protect against racial profiling, protect the rights of children and domestic violence survivors, and upholds the right to a day in court by only reporting for deportation individuals convicted, not merely accused, of crimes.
Documents Can Be Found at http://bit.ly/scomm-foia-ca
#####
1. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0003246.
2. Id.
3. Id.; ICE FOIA 10-2674.0007167.
4. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0003815.
5. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0003246.
6. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0007174.
7. Compare 10-2674.0007229 (S-Comm Director David Venturella’s deliberately misleading definition of opt out for San Francisco Sheriff Hennessey) with 10-2674.0005151 (S-Comm Deputy Director Marc Rapp’s contrary definition of opt out, given to Congressional representatives the same week).
8. FBI SC 1726.
9. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0007228; 10-2674.0006127-6128.
10. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0007308.
11. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0005568. …

Call For Raises For Dallas Minimum Wage Sanitation Workers

Call For Raises For Dallas Minimum Wage Sanitation Workers

BJ Austin, stuff KERA News (2011-04-05) | Source: KERA

Listen Now

(KERA)Dallas civil rights and union activists marked the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King yesterday evening with a rally for Dallas sanitation workers. KERA’s BJ Austin reports.

Call For Raises For Dallas Minimum Wage Sanitation Workers

Union Workers Join Rally For Dallas Sanitation Workers Pay Raise

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had gone to Memphis 43 years ago to show support for striking city sanitation workers. Dallas rally organizer Peter Johnson says the call for a living wage for Dallas sanitation workers is a fitting way to honor Dr. King.

James Fortenberry, with the United Labor Union, Local 100, says Dallas sanitation workers make just above minimum wage and have no benefits. He says that’s not adequate to support one person, much less a family.

Fortenberry: I just went to the VA Hospital today to visit a sanitation worker, diagnosed with throat cancer. Thank God he’s a Vietnam Veteran.

Mary Nix, head of Dallas Sanitation, says the city has used contract “day” labor on the back of garbage trucks for more than a decade. The only requirement is that the contractor meet or exceed the federal minimum wage.

Nix: We are paying the contractor 9.72 cents an hour, which includes that employee’s pay plus the overhead on worker’s comp.

Nix says contracting out garbage pickup helps keeps sanitation fees low. But she says there’s another reason the city council has been reluctant to require pay raises in the contract with AllTemps1. She says it’s difficult to raise contract day labor pay when full time employees at the city are taking pay cuts.

Nix: It’s very difficult to find a way to trim the cost of the budget for permanent employees who taken cuts over the last two years, and look at the day laborers who their federal wages have been increasing over the past three years.

But City Council member Angela Hunt says paying sanitation workers a “living wage” is the right thing to do.

Hunt: The amount that we’d have to increase the sanitation fee by is very minimal to make up for the cost of paying these guys what we should be paying them for the hard work that they do for the citizens of Dallas.

Peter Johnson says Dallas is the only major city whose sanitation workers are at minimum wage levels and have no benefits. Council member Hunt says maybe that will change with a new Mayor who’ll take office in June – as work begins on next year’s budget.

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Iowa should crack down on wage thieves

4:16 PM, Apr. 1, online 2011 | Source: DesMoinesRegister.com

Few crimes are more contemptible than wage theft.

When an employer stiffs a worker of promised wages, the employer is not just stealing money from the worker. The employer has stolen hours of someone else’s life.

It is all the more despicable because victims tend to be poor and powerless. They are often day laborers, young people or immigrants who have no means of forcing employers to pay what they promised.

Imagine yourself at the bottom rungs of the labor ladder. You jump at the chance for a few days’ work that might at least pay the rent, but at the end of the week there is no pay. The wages you have been promised are refused, or the check you have been given bounces.

You have no leverage to force the employer to pay. You might complain to the state Labor Department, but it’s your word against the employer’s. Besides, the one investigator assigned to wage theft has a huge backlog of cases. It will be months before you see any redress, if ever. In the meantime, the rent is still unpaid and the children still need to eat.

Of all the crimes perpetrated against the poor, wage theft is among the most cruel.

The activist group Citizens for Community Improvement has shown a spotlight on wage theft in Iowa, uncovering what is either an alarming increase in wage theft or an increase in reporting of the crime. Either way, it is unacceptable.

Wage theft is a crime that simply should not exist. No one in Iowa should be able to get away with stealing another person’s labor.

The Iowa Senate passed a bill intended to make it easier prove the case when workers have been cheated, but the bill appears doomed in the House. The legislation would require employers to maintain documentation of people they hire and wages promised. It would also prohibit reprisals against whistle blowers who support the claims of the cheated workers.

Leaders in the House of Representatives have taken the position that the legislation would impose too much paperwork on good employers in order to catch a few bad ones.

That’s no surprise. The business-friendly House naturally is more solicitous of employers than it is of impoverished workers.

Fine. In an atmosphere where the lawmakers are falling all over themselves to do anything the business lobby wants, it is too much to expect that a new paperwork burden would be imposed on business.

But those who object to the paperwork burden should feel an obligation to come up with other ways for desperate workers to recover wages owed them. If they don’t like paperwork, then what other way of stopping wage theft do they propose?

At the least, the state should allocate sufficient resources so that every wage complaint can be promptly investigated. Perhaps, too, the penalty for wage theft, a $500 fine, should be increased by an order of magnitude.

The state should make it unmistakably clear that any employer who intentionally cheats workers forfeits the right to run a business in Iowa. Perhaps, since they have stolen someone else’s time, they should serve time themselves, in jail.

Birmingham’s Hispanic day laborers find work scarce in tough economy

Birmingham’s Hispanic day laborers find work scarce in tough economy

Published: Sunday, April 03, 2011, clinic 7:15 AM

By Val Walton–The Birmingham News | Source: Blog.Al.Com

Benjamin Parra is grateful for his maintenance job at a fast-food restaurant in Hoover.

He knows he’s lucky, he said, because many other Hispanic immigrants are finding it hard to land steady employment in a down economy.

Parra, a native of Mexico, said he has friends who left Hoover for North Carolina and Florida in search of jobs.

“A lot of people, they have to go somewhere else to find work,” Parra said, speaking through a translator as he stood in the parking lot of the Lorna Place apartments off Lorna Road in Hoover.

Birmingham’s Hispanic day laborers find work scarce in tough economy

Men gather at a gas station on Lorna Road in Hoover in 2003. That stretch of road has been a gathering spot for Hispanic day laborers, many of whom lived in nearby apartments. But where there once were as many as 200 people along the road, now there may be dozens on a given day. (The Birmingham News/Steve Barnette)

As jobs became scarce following the recession that began in 2007, so have the mostly Hispanic day laborers who would regularly congregate in apartment parking lots to solicit work on a daily basis. Where there once were as many as 200 people huddled along Lorna and Patton Chapel roads when the economy bustled, now there may be dozens.

“You can definitely tell there has been a drop,” said Daniel Waseka, an assistant manager at the BP station across the street on Lorna. “I used to see a lot of them. Now, it’s not so many.”

Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos said there are several apartment complexes along Lorna Road that are half-empty, prompting him to speculate that some of the foreign-born Hispanics have returned to their native countries or moved elsewhere.

The emergence of the day laborer population in Hoover sparked much controversy in years past as many residents complained about loitering and questioned whether they were in the country legally. As their numbers decreased, so have the complaints.

Hispanic students

Hoover’s school system also has seen a dip in the number of students enrolled in its English Language Learner program, of which more than half the students are Hispanic. There have been as many as 830 students in the program in the past five years, but that number had dropped to 520 this past December, said Barbara Mayer, director of instructional support for Hoover City Schools.

She can’t document whether one language group had dropped more than another, but “there has certainly been a decline,” Mayer said.

School officials cannot pinpoint reasons for the drop, but anecdotal information suggests many Hispanics who were in Hoover bought homes in parts of north Shelby County where homes may be more affordable, or left for Mexico or other places because of the recession, Mayer said.

Yanyi Djamba, director of the Center for Demographic Research at Auburn University at Montgomery, said it is not unusual for Hispanics to have been affected more by the economy because they are more likely to fill low-wage and low-skilled positions.

Landscaping, construction and the service industries depend heavily on migrant workers. “This kind of work, Alabama people are less likely going to take,” Djamba said.

Jay Reed, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Alabama, said the association has seen a decrease in immigrant labor on job sites. As there has been a decrease in commercial projects, employers have hired fewer people, he said.

Future shortage?

Reed said there is a concern that once the economy rebounds, there could be a shortage of skilled workers in construction. His association has been engaged in the Go Build campaign that aims to educate young people on the benefits of learning a skilled trade. About one-third of the skilled tradesmen in the construction industry are age 50 and older, he said.

Nationally, a study by the Pew Hispanic Center estimates there was a decline in the number of immigrants entering the United States without documents between 2007 and 2009, the height of the economic recession. However, the number stabilized in 2010, said Jeff Passel, a senior demographer with the Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan research organization.

Passel said there is no evidence to suggest a huge return of immigrants back to Mexico, which has the largest percentage of unauthorized migrants among Latin American countries nationally and in Alabama.

The Hispanic population in Alabama grew 145 percent between 2000 and 2010, the second largest percentage increase behind South Carolina, according to an analysis of U.S. Census numbers by the Pew Research Center. Approximately 186,000 Hispanics lived in Alabama as of the 2010 Census, up from 76,000 in 2000.

Sister Gabriela Ramirez, director of the Multicultural Resource Center on Victory Lane in Hoover, said she has encountered day laborers who would like to go back to their countries, but they lack resources to return home.

“The problem is they don’t have money or the tickets,” she said. “It’s hard for them to make money for them to survive.”

The resource center has helped provide food to those who are struggling, she said.

The scarce job market has prompted day laborers who normally work in construction to reach out to restaurants for work.

Liset Hernandez, an assistant manager at the Iguana Grill in Hoover, said a lot more people have come in asking for applications. Daniel Valencia, manager of Taqueria Valencia 2, also in Hoover, said most Hispanic immigrants like to work in construction, but right now they’re trying to find jobs in other fields.

In what may be another sign of the economic downturn, Diana Rivas, who handles money transfers at El Mercado grocery store in Hoover, said she has seen a decline in the number of people coming in to send money back home to their families in other countries. Four years ago, she said there would be $400 in money transfers a day. Now, the transfers amount to about $100 a day, she said.

Rivas said she also knows many day laborers have moved out of Hoover to places such as Leeds, where rent is cheaper.

Housing ordinances

But some say the recession may not be the only reason Hispanic day laborers have moved out of Hoover and some other nearby cities.

George Huddleston III, a lawyer who in 2005 and 2006 filed lawsuits against the city of Hoover, alleging that police violated Hispanics’ civil rights with illegal searches and other practices Huddleston claimed were intended to drive Hispanics out of the city, said city leaders made it challenging for Hispanics to live in Hoover.

Huddleston cites a housing ordinance that limits the number of adults to two people per bedroom for rental properties and requires owners of rental property to maintain registries with the names of all their tenants and whether those tenants are adults or minors. Hoover passed its ordinance in 2005, while Helena and Pelham approved similar ordinances in 2007.

Petelos said Hoover’s housing ordinance was a safety issue. “We don’t target any organization or any group,” the mayor said.

Huddleston’s clients agreed to drop their federal lawsuits in 2008 after the city committed to treat Hispanics fairly. Petelos said Hoover police do not engage in racial profiling but work to stop crime, regardless of a person’s race or ethnicity. “If you’re creating a crime or traffic violation, Hoover police will stop you,” he said. “We don’t care what nationality or color or background, they will stop you, and in most cases, you will get a ticket.”

The issue of day laborers gathering in public places has sparked controversy in Hoover in the past. In 2004, candidates, especially those running for Hoover mayor, proposed initiatives to crack down on undocumented immigrants. They talked of razing apartments, trying to get a federal immigration agent stationed in the Hoover area and training a police task force.

The city bought the 136-unit La Chateau Apartments at the corner of Lorna Road and Patton Chapel Road for $2.4 million in December, with plans to demolish the complex and market it for commercial development. The property, known for years as Hartwood Apartments, is half-empty and went into foreclosure in August. Petelos said the city will allow residents to remain there until their leases expire.

The complex has been a hangout for Hispanic day laborers for years, but Petelos said the city’s redevelopment effort is not designed to push Hispanics out of Hoover, which has plenty of other apartments in Hoover they can choose.

For Parra, whose wife and three children remain in Mexico, being able to find any work in Hoover helps him live the American dream, he said.

“I’m proud to have a job and help my family,” he said. “A lot of people come to try and better themselves like me.”

Join the conversation by clicking to comment or email Walton at vwalton@bhamnews.com.

54 years ago…

54 years ago…

LARRY KASSOUF | opinion@lbknews.com | Source: Longboat Key News

Pipecrafters yard at 7:20 a.m.
Broadway Avenue and Miles Park Avenue
Cleveland, cheap Ohio
Summer 1957

54 years ago… My father would check for any last-minute changes in scheduling before he dropped me off for work at the Van Aken job. He would then go on to the other job sites the company had, order but he would return often to the Van Aken job throughout the day, as this was the largest and most complex job the company had. At the end of the workday, he would be there to pick me up.

Pipecrafters was a pipeline construction company. They installed water, sanitary sewer, storm sewer, natural gas and telephone lines. This would be the first of many consecutive summers in which I worked as a common laborer for my father’s company. The money was great, and in one year I would have a driver’s license. A car was in my scope!

My first job each morning was to collect, clean and fill all of the kerosene lamps that had been placed out at quitting time the evening before. Being the youngest and newest employee on the crew that was installing a 60-inch storm sewer line from Shaker Square to Warrensville Road along Van Aken Boulevard (a five-mile stretch), I was given the least desirable chores by the foreman of the crew. However, putting out the lights at the end of the day was a serious matter, since these lights directed traffic away from dangerous conditions for 16 hours of each day. I was proud to earn the trust of the foreman after the appropriate training period.

After completion of the kerosene lamp task, I would be dispatched to the ditch where the crew was placing 60-inch sections of storm sewer pipe. They were five feet tall and eight feet long. Each section had a hole in the top middle of the pipe to hold the attachment from the enormous crane, which placed the sections of pipe in the ground. They also had a joint where each section joined the previous section. Both the hole in the top middle of the pipe and the joints required sealing with hot tar. The inspectors would come at the end of each day to confirm this had been done properly.

At a height of just over five feet, I could literally stand in the pipe and do the second worst job on the project, ‘inside tar man.’ Of course, the worst job was the kerosene lamp detail. Each joint was sealed with hot tar from the inside to keep leakage to a minimum and to ensure that each section of pipe remained aligned properly. The hole on top was also sealed with a plug and tarred from the inside. Between the lights and the tar, I earned my credentials with the foreman, the laborers and the various heavy equipment operators. It was, however, the day laborers who became my friends and mentors.

The laborers were a mixture of Appalachian whites, Blacks, and Italian and Eastern European immigrants. They were singularly the most prideful people I have ever been around. I learned a lot about people and how to treat your fellow voyagers from the day laborers at Pipecrafters.

They never loafed around and always helped each other complete a task. They were not limited in their thinking about the jobs they were tasked. If they could do a job more efficiently and improve the end product by extra effort, they always did so without fanfare. The only “atta-boys” they required were internal or from each other.

They arrived for work on time, took the allotted 30 minutes for lunch and quit on time. They appreciated the opportunity to work and showed that appreciation by working hard all day. They arrived for work clean and neat and left dirty, sweaty and tired. They taught me that it takes just as long to learn a bad habit as it does to learn a good habit. They taught me how to get on with a job, get along and share with others. Additionally, I learned how to make wine, smoke ribs, make sausage, cook food on the manifold of a truck engine and find the best bakeries in the neighborhoods of Cleveland.

At the end of my workday my father was there to pick me up. We would return to the Pipecrafters yard to wind up the day’s company business, then go home for dinner. My father would look at my dirty, sweaty being, slap me on the back and say nothing. I could, however, see the pride in his eyes and the recognition of a job well done. My friends at Pipecrafters made this possible.

Graton Day Labor Center Celebrates 10 Years

Graton Day Labor Center Celebrates 10 Years

By LAURIE WEED | SEBASTOPOL CORRESPONDENT | Thursday, March 31st, 2011 | Source: Sebastopol.Towns.PressDemocract.com

Graton Day Labor Center Celebrates 10 Years

Yadira Flores, left, is taught English by Sebastopol volunteer Liz Finn at the Graton Day Labor Center, Tuesday March 29, 2011. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2011

As the Graton Day Labor Center turns 10, Dr. Loco’s Rockin’ Jalapeño Band will be on hand to celebrate the anniversary with its award-winning blend of Mexican-American rhythm. During that decade, the center has come a long way from its humble beginnings, evolving from a hiring hall into a nonprofit organization with two full-time and two part-time staff who serve about 70 workers a day, depending on the season.

“The workers themselves do a lot to keep the center going,” said hiring coordinator Omar Gallardo. The population of workers has increased significantly, with many arriving from the state of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.

“What we have now is the result of a true collaborative effort between the workers, volunteers, neighbors and community leaders,” said Christy Lubin, a longtime volunteer and Graton resident who chairs the Center’s board of directors. The need for organizing immigrant labor in the town became apparent many years ago, she said, when residents became concerned about the growing numbers of laborers who were camping out near the creek.

Graton Day Labor Center Celebrates 10 Years

Two year-old Jesus Hernandez accompanied his uncle Luis Gutierrez to the Graton Day Labor Center, Tuesday March 29, 2011 as he checks in to find work. The wet winter has led to a slowdown of labor jobs, equating to a a larger pool of workers looking for employment. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2011

“A group of volunteers came together to work on the issue because we didn’t want an ‘us and them’ mentality to develop,” she said. “We’re all human. We have a responsibility to make sure people in our community are not living outdoors without clean water or toilets.”

The group’s early efforts included serving free coffee at Mexico Lindo on Saturday mornings, and inviting people in to discuss the workers’ needs. From there a basic hiring system evolved, first operating from a card table in front of the Graton Community Club. It took several more years for the larger community to reach consensus on a physical hiring hall for day laborers, and to work out the logistics of space, support and services.

Among the needs they address, education has always been a priority. “All workers have basic human rights,” Lubin said, “whatever their immigration status.” The Center educates workers on their rights, and on their responsibilities as employees and community members. “Employers need to be educated, too,” she added. While wineries and vineyards do some of the hiring, a lot of the work comes from homeowners who need help with landscaping, cleanup projects and home improvement. The Center acts as a mediator, ensuring that fair labor arrangements are made and upheld by all parties.

“We are offering a service to employers as well. They know the person they are hiring has been ‘vouched for,’ and every aspect of the job is communicated clearly,” said Lubin.

In addition to managing labor, the Center provides housing referrals, access to health care, and English tutoring, all free of charge to the workers. It also functions as a social gathering place. Most of the people it serves are far from their homes and families, with no social network here. “Even when there is no work available, they always have a place to go, something productive to do and a feeling of belonging, of being a part of the social fabric.”

Saturday’s event will include a performance by Santa Rosa’s Imaginists Theatre Collective. A Mexican dinner will be available for , along with beverages, with all proceeds benefiting the Center.

Benefit Concert for Graton Day Labor Center

Featuring Dr. Loco’s Rockin’ Jalapeño Band

Friday, April 8. Doors open at 7 p.m., show begins at 8 p.m.

Sebastopol Community Cultural Center, 390 Morris Street, Sebastopol

Tickets: $25-50 sliding scale, available online or by calling 829-1864

Children enter free; no one turned away for lack of funds

Press Contacts

Contact: armando carmonaarmando@ndlon.org 951.966.6500 Member Organizations Contact Info:WEST COAST REGION MEMBERS CHIRLA (Los Angeles, CA)213 353 1333 IDEPSCA (Los Angeles,CA)213 252 2952 Malibu Community Labor Exchange (Malibu, CA)310 317 4717 Pomona Day Laborer Center (Pomona, CA)909 397 4215 Centro Laboral de Graton (Graton, CA)707 829 1864 Day Worker Center of Mountain View (Mountain View, CA)650…