Home Health Workers Are Sick of Being Shut Out of Labor Law

By Michelle Chen, Colorlines and In These Times | August 3, 2011 | Source: Huffington Post

As walking canes replace running shoes, and the parents who raised us start needing to be cared for themselves, the first dawn of America’s aging boom approaches. But even as the “gray wave” looms on the horizon, the way we treat the workers who care for our elders lags generations behind.

Hundreds of thousands of home care workers remain excluded from the country’s key labor laws. As with many other groups of “excluded workers,” like farm and day laborers, inequities in the law hit immigrants and people of color the hardest. And the stakes are higher in home care industry, in which demand for, and the cost of care, reach unprecedented levels. More people have been moving toward home- and community-based services for the elderly and people with disabilities, as alternative to institutionalization. Evidence indicates caring for people at home is in many cases more cost-effective than conventional nursing homes.

Yet for all the help they provide, home care workers feel a bit neglected these days. Through an arcane provision in federal labor law, Washington has essentially shut home-based health workers from minimum-wage and overtime rules. That means home health aides may be even worse off than regular domestic workers, who are at least technically entitled to federal minimum wage. The Department of Labor has since the 1970s manipulated an exemption for “companion” workers “into a whole exclusion” of some 1.7 million skilled workers, according to a report by the National Employment Law Project:

The result has been to suppress wages for the home care workforce, consigning millions of caregivers — the overwhelming majority of them women, many of them immigrants and women of color — to working poverty. The lack of ordinary overtime coverage has also facilitated excessive hours in small segments of the industry. Long hours are not only grueling for workers but can contribute to worse care for patients, as caregivers working 60 hours or more a week face fatigue and stress in performing what is a demanding job under any circumstances. These substandard working conditions have created very serious employee recruitment and retention problems, generating labor shortages that prevent us from meeting the nation’s rapidly growing need for home care.

The NELP has called on the Department of Labor to revise its regulations to include home care workers under federal wage-and-hour protections. Absent federal protection, only 21 states and the District of Columbia currently provide minimum wage or overtime. Still, the NELP points to those local examples as proof that federal coverage of home care workers is feasible.

The need for regulation has increased as the home health industry assumes a more prominent role in the healthcare system. Medicaid funds support many of the agencies that employ the majority of this workforce. And with the home-health aide workforce expected to surge by about 50 percent from 2008-2018, NELP notes that government oversight has tightened as the sector has boomed, and some states have set up public authorities to administer home care services.

Nonetheless, the workforce is asked to do a lot for very little. Workers carry out not just regular companionship duties but also paramedical services like monitoring vital signs and administering medication. Yet a typical aide can work full-time and still not make enough to live on; the 2009 median hourly wage was just $9.34.

Meanwhile, funding shortfalls and budget theatrics in Washington are driving both parties to attack healthcare for the poor and aging. The latest Republican budget proposal would gut Medicaid through some $100 billion in “savings” over the next decade (directly countering promised expansion of Medicaid under health care reform), plus additional cutbacks in Medicare, which of course provides basic medical coverage for seniors. And adding insult to injury, the budget axe is hovering over their social security checks, too.

Earlier this month, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which has campaigned for the rights of home-based labor across the country, brought the voices of home-based workers to Washington at the Caring Across Generations conference. Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the Alliance, emphasized the connection between quality care and decent work:

Caring for the aging and people with disabilities is one of our most important responsibilities as a nation. That means protecting the vital services we have — Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security — and creating the quality care jobs, training, and family support that we need.

We live in a political climate that constantly devalues critical service sector work, from teaching our kids to keeping the streets clean. Our elders are growing older in the same hostile climate. So we ought to ask ourselves what society collectively owes to the workers with whom we entrust the health and comfort of loved ones. Your grandmother’s home caregiver, who may be just like a family member to her, has a family of her own to take care of when she goes home at night.

Daily News Editorial: Budget bust — The price of neglecting pension reform can be seen in cuts to our schools, to the elderly, even to day laborers

Source: DailyNews.com | July 31, 2011

Day laborers crowding the entrance to Home Depot. Seniors dumped out of day care programs. Students shut out of public higher education because of cost. This is what ignoring pension reform looks like. Until now, the effects of many of the budget cuts by state, mind county and city governments have been visible only around the edges of society. The average person could ignore them. They hit home at someone else’s house.

But now the effects are showing up in everyday life.

They are the theme that links a handful of news stories this month.

The closures of day-labor centers that had been funded by Los Angeles-area cities took away such services as health services, English lessons and protection from exploitive employers. It also sent manual laborers back to Home Depot stores and other unofficial gathering spots to look for work, often to the annoyance of pers.

The discontinuation of state funding for California’s 300 adult day health care centers, including dozens in the San Fernando Valley, raised fears that ailing and isolated senior citizens would be denied medical attention and the company of other people. The responsibility for helping them will fall to other cash-strapped agencies and to seniors’ families.

Cuts in state funding for public education prompted tuition increases of 12 percent for the California State University system and 9.6 percent for the University of California system just weeks before the start of the 2011-12 academic year. That’s a terrible blow for many students and families, for whom money may be scarce anyway these days.

Unfortunately, we’d better get used to such tangible symptoms of government budget crunches.

It is easy but only slightly correct for elected officials to put all of this down to the economic downturn. Leaders themselves deserve blame for signing off on unsustainable benefits for public employees and delaying hard choices.

The day was bound to come when the growing pension obligations would balloon – much like the mortgages that force thousands to walk away from their homes.

City leaders talk about huge revenue gaps. The trouble is not the incoming money, which has stayed roughly the same or grown. The trouble is the cost of servicing the debt and obligations incurred by generations of politicians who traded employee benefits for support and re-election.

Recently, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council scored a small victory on this count by extracting concessions on health-benefits payments from the city’s police force. Of course, to achieve that, the city had to give the police pay raises of 7 percent over three years, handing off a budget headache to another mayor and council.

As one of the largest drains on public funds in the state, pensions and other retirement benefits are siphoning off billions of dollars right off the top of any budget. The downturn in the market only increased the liability. It didn’t create the problem.

Politicians know that most of the electorate finds the issue of pension reform to be vague, esoteric and inaccessible. They know they can take the easy way now because they will no longer be in office – at least, not their current office – when the chickens come home to roost.

Voters have let politicians get away with this, and now, all around us, we see the results of this failure embodied by laborers going back to the Home Depot, seniors being displaced, students leaving college. Chickens roosting.

Dept of Justice Sues Alabama, Needs to do so in every state

BIRMINGHAM, AL – The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) today filed a federal challenge to Alabama’s draconian anti-immigrant law. Modeled on Arizona’s infamous SB 1070 but taking it to even greater extremes, the Alabama law is considered the most pernicious anti-immigrant state law to date.
The DOJ lawsuit follows on the heels of HICA v. Bentley, a class-action challenge asserting that the law is unconstitutional on multiple grounds, filed on July 8 by the National Immigration Law Center and a coalition of civil rights organizations. On July 21, the coalition filed a request that the court block the law from taking effect, pending a final ruling on the law’s constitutionality. The hearing to determine whether the court should enjoin the law has been set for August 24, 2011 in the civil rights coalition case.
The following statements can be attributed to various members of the coalition:
Pablo Alvarado, director, National Day Laborer Organizing Network:
“The suit filed by the DOJ is an acknowledgement of the civil rights crisis caused by the Arizonification of our country and deepened in states like Alabama and Georgia where they have built upon Arizona’s laws. We welcome the administration’s action but see it as treating the symptom rather than the . More easily than court proceedings, President Obama could bring relief to our communities with the stroke of a pen.”
Linton Joaquin, general counsel, National Immigration Law Center:

“Today, the federal government rightly asserted that states cannot lawfully ignore the U.S. Constitution and enact their own sweeping immigration laws. Alabama’s law – like its ideological predecessors in Arizona, Utah, Indiana, and Georgia – is an affront to our American and constitutional values. We welcome the federal government’s challenge, and we look forward to continuing our own legal battle to permanently remove this law from Alabama’s lawbooks.”
Sam Brooke, attorney, Southern Poverty Law Center:
“It has been clear from the start that this law is blatantly overreaching and seriously flawed. We welcome the federal government’s involvement in preventing this dangerous and costly law from going into effect.”
Cecilia Wang, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project:
“We applaud the government for taking action to stop Alabama’s anti-immigrant law. Today’s lawsuit will help protect the civil rights of Alabamians against legislation that mandates unlawful police searches and seizures in the name of immigration enforcement.”
Olivia Turner, executive director, ACLU of Alabama:
“We welcome the federal government’s effort to block Alabama’s unconstitutional HB 56. We hope this law will be enjoined, just like the law in Arizona that inspired it.”
Erin Oshiro, senior staff attorney, Asian American Justice Center, a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice:
“It is encouraging that the Department of Justice decided to challenge Alabama’s anti-immigrant bill. This move sends a strong signal to Alabama and other states that the federal government takes its immigration authority seriously and serves as a warning to states considering these types of unconstitutional laws.”
Victor Viramontes, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund National Senior Counsel
“It is appropriate that the Department of Justice has sued to block Alabama’s illegal and discriminatory law that unfairly targets Latinos.”
Attorneys on the case include Brooke , Mary Bauer , Andrew Turner, Michelle Lapointe, Dan Werner, and Naomi Tsu of the Southern Poverty Law Center; Cecillia D. Wang, Katherine Desormeau, Kenneth J. Sugarman, Andre Segura, Elora Mukherjee, Omar C. Jadwat, Lee Gelernt, Michael K. T. Tan of the American Civil Liberties Union and Freddy Rubio of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama; Joaquin, Karen C. Tumlin, Tanya Broder, Shiu-Ming Cheer, Melissa S. Keaney, and Vivek Mittal of the National Immigration Law Center; Sin Yen Ling of the Asian Law Caucus; Oshiro of the Asian American Justice Center; Foster Maer, Ghita Schwarz and Diana Sen of Latino Justice; Thomas Saenz, Nina Perales, Viramontes, Amy Pederson, and Martha Gomez of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Jessica Karp of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network; G. Brian Spears, Ben Bruner, Herman Watson, Jr., Eric J. Artrip and Rebekah Keith McKinney. …

Local day laborers: Older, undocumented, undereducated

July 28, s 2011 | 11:53am | Source: L.A. Now, LATimesBlogs.LATimes.com

The average day laborer in Harbor City and Wilmington is 44 years old and has lived in the United States for nearly 17 years, according to survey results out of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

The Harbor-UCLA Summer Urban Health Fellowship conducted research and health outreach with the assistance of seven volunteer s,  nine medical students, 13 college students and 20 local high schoolers.

Their project’s findings were based on interviews with 158 day laborers in Harbor City and Wilmington.

The profile of these local workers differs from a national sample of day laborers based on research from 2004. That earlier study found day laborers had an average age of 34 and had been in the country an average of six years.

The local surveys found that 75% of the workers are not legal United States residents — not surprising given the informal nature of day work and the difficulty of finding regular jobs without U.S. citizenship.

Other findings included:

– More than half the day laborers found work less than 10 days per month; more than a fourth, less than five days
– A third reported performing work they consider dangerous within the last month
– Two-thirds reported doing work for which they were not paid within the last month.
– Two-thirds reported their own health as fair or poor
– More than 30% said they’d been “harassed by police” within the last month
– 75% had not completed high school; two-thirds had not completed eighth grade

All but one of the day laborers surveyed were men.

Interviewers also asked why the laborers came to the United State and recorded their top four responses: 1) to find a better life; 2) to find employment; 3) to provide for families and children; 4) because they believed there would be more opportunities in the U.S.

“They are not coming here to use social services but because they want to work,” said
Chardonnay Vance, a participating medical student from Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

Research guidelines did not allow the high school students to conduct the research, but they participated in other aspects of the program, including organizing community health fairs in the Wilmington area, which is underserved by healthcare providers.

About half the participating students came from Banning and Carson high schools. One high school alum of the program has returned as a volunteer . The program is managed by two Harbor-UCLA s, Gilberto Granados and Jyoti Puvvula, who donate their time.

Virgilio Goze, 18, who just graduated from Banning High, volunteered each of the last four years in the summer outreach program, which is funded by donations from local politicians, medical centers and foundations.

“It pretty much gave me a wider world view,” said Virgilio, whose own parents have sometimes struggled economically since immigrating from the Philippines.

He’ll be attending UCLA as a premed biology major. He wants to be a family : “The general interacts with families. They are the first line. They actually talk to the patient. Those things really touched me.”

Another participant, Erik Ruiz, 16, will be entering the 10th grade at Banning High. He’s grown up with a severely disabled brother.

“I always wanted to know: Why would this happen to anyone?” he said. “I looked to the medical field for finding that question out.”

He plans on becoming the first in his family to graduate from a four-year college in his quest to become a : “I love helping people. Giving everybody a smile makes me happy.”

Brewer’s 1070 Countersuit is Counterproductive for Arizona

Phoenix, AZ. In response to the Governor of Arizona pressing her countersuit to defend SB 1070, Pablo Alvarado, Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a litigant in the injunction suit against SB 1070 issued the following statement:
“Like Governor Wallace before her, Governor Brewer is choosing to stand on the wrong side of history with her defense of unconstitutional, regressive, and immoral legislation.
Brewer will lose in court and in the court of public opinion. Any short term political gain by scapegoating Americans in waiting will be offset in droves by future generations in Arizona who will have been inspired to wipe away the stain on the state caused by her repugnant, unconstitutional, and anti-American nativist crusade.
Yet, like a driver who refuses to admit they’re lost, the Governor refuses to turn around.
Governor Brewer’s inability to govern and failure to provide real solutions to the state’s problems will no longer be shielded by the diversion created by her spectacle of scapegoating.”
The Governor’s countersuit today precedes another event in court. Tomorrow, on the anniversary of the implementation of SB 1070, local leader Salvador Reza of the Puente Movement as well as Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, will face trial for their act of conscience that prevented Sheriff Arpaio’s raids on last July 29th….

Wilmington Health Summit: Day laborers suffer poor health, work conditions

By Melissa Evans, Staff Writer | Posted: 07/26/2011 06:11:34 PM PDT | Source: DailyBreeze.com

They may have come to America for a better life, but many of the migrant day laborers in the Wilmington area suffer poor health and work conditions, a study presented Tuesday found.

Among the workers surveyed for the 2011 Wilmington Health Summit, 85 percent said they lack health insurance and a disproportionate number suffer chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and asthma.

Students and researchers who worked on the health study urged the public to get involved and help inform day laborers of available services.

“The findings clearly show (day laborers) don’t come here to utilize health services,” said Lisa Hean, a medical student involved in the research. “Many struggle to find work, and suffer all kinds of abuse and harassment.”

Roughly two dozen high school and college students, along with medical students and researchers from County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center near Torrance, conducted interviews and offered health services for more than 300 day laborers and low-income residents this summer.

The effort is part of an annual fellowship coordinated by the Department of Family Medicine at Harbor-UCLA and Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute.

One of the goals is to get medical students interested in serving disadvantaged places such as Wilmington, where there is roughly one for every 7,000 residents. The region, part of Los Angeles, is also bounded by five oil refineries and the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The bulk of residents are Spanish-speaking, and a majority have no health insurance or regular , according to the student research.

The fellowship began in 1991 after s noticed that many patients without insurance being treated in the emergency room came from the ZIP code that covers Wilmington, said John Feng, a medical student involved in the study.

“We want to encourage the community to think about their health and be equipped to take care of themselves,” he said.

Day laborers are a particularly vulnerable population, researchers said.

Among those who came to a health fair at a day laborer site in Wilmington, more than a quarter suffered from asthma and 70 percent were considered either overweight or obese.

In subsequent interviews, all of the laborers said they migrated to America from Mexico in search of a better life, jobs and more opportunities.

“These reasons are something we should celebrate, not look down on,” said Chardonnay Vance, a medical student.

Many of these laborers, however, endure poor and dangerous working conditions and earn meager wages, from $276 to $1,162 a month.

The students touted federal legislation known as the Dream Act, which would provide citizenship to some youth who are here illegally, and state legislation that would provide universal health care.

They also encouraged the community to help get the word out about state and federal programs that are now available, particularly for children.

“It is not paperwork or legal documents, but passion and work ethic that make you part of this country,” said Brian Levin, a student at Palos Verdes High School who participated.

melissa.evans@dailybreeze.com

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.” …