Iowa should crack down on wage thieves

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

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

Graton Day Labor Center Celebrates 10 Years

Graton Day Labor Center Celebrates 10 Years

By LAURIE WEED | SEBASTOPOL CORRESPONDENT | Thursday, March 31st, 2011 | Source:

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

Legislation targets employers who shortchange undocumented immigrants

5:38 PM, Mar. 27, 2011 | Written by ABBOTT KOLOFF – STAFF WRITER

Alejandro Flores, 22, of Morristown (left) came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 16. He said an Italian restaurant owes him $1,350 in wages. / STAFF PHOTO: KAREN MANCINELLI

One woman said she had been threatened with deportation if she continued to press for pay at her restaurant job. One man said he made repeated calls for back pay to a former employer who kept putting him off. Another said a former boss set aside a week’s salary as a “deposit” and then kept it.

A group of day laborers, all undocumented immigrants, gathered Thursday night at the offices of Wind of the Spirit, an immigrant advocacy group, to go over the status of grievances against former bosses and to learn about a proposed state law that would beef up punishments for employers who withhold wages from workers.

Julio Lopez, a 43-year-old Morristown resident, said he left a job at a painting company in mid-December because he hadn’t been paid in weeks and needed money to clothes and Christmas gifts for his three children, two of them born in the U.S. He said he has a tax identification number and pays taxes on his wages.

“He kept telling me not to worry,” Lopez said of his former boss. “I said “I’m worried; I have a wife and kids.’ ”

Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, filed a bill almost two weeks ago called the Wage Protection Act that would increase penalties for employers found guilty of violating the state’s wage laws. Not only would such employers be required to repay illegally withheld wages, they also would be required to pay damages and be fined $1,000 plus 20 percent of withheld wages on the first offense. Convicted employers also would be subject to losing various state licenses.

Justin Braz, Quijano’s chief of staff, said the bill was inspired by a Seton Hall Law School report released in January focusing on the alleged exploitation of day laborers. But he added that the bill was broader than that because the problem of employers violating the state’s wage laws goes beyond those who hire undocumented workers.

“The intent is to protect all workers who deserve to get paid,” he said.

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, R-Morris, known as one of the most conservative members of the Legislature, at first responded negatively to the idea of aiding day laborers, saying they do not pay taxes. He then said the bill might be a “good idea.”

“The more risk you put on hiring day laborers, the less likely you’ll hire them,” Carroll said. “Maybe then they’ll go home. . . . I don’t think many people feel sympathy for employers stealing from undocumented immigrants. If this is an attempt to make sure businesses play by the rules, that’s certainly not unfair.”

The proposed bill also would allow some workers to file anonymous civil suits because of a fear of retaliation by employers, although they would be required to file a second set of papers using their names. Braz said the proposal would allow a complainant’s identity to be kept from the defendant, at least at first — a concept that drew a critical response from a prominent labor attorney last week.

“Due process requires you know who it is to defend yourself,” said Wayne Positan, a Roseland attorney. “It’s repugnant to due process.”

Positan said state and federal laws already deal with the issue of retaliation, and that the bill might create an unnecessary burden on local courts by sending additional complaints there instead of to state and federal agencies designed to deal with them.

The recent Seton Hall report addressed the vulnerability of day laborers, saying they are easy targets for unscrupulous employers because they often are afraid to go to authorities, fearing deportation, or did not know about their legal options. The report was based on a survey of 113 day laborers, mostly Latinos, at seven sites across New Jersey, including Morristown. It included observations of more than another 100 day laborers who did not want to participate in the survey.

Of those surveyed, 54 percent said they had been paid less than they had been promised over the past year, 48 percent had not been paid at all at some point, 94 percent had not been paid for overtime, and 26 percent had been assaulted on the job. Typical weekly incomes during the winter were less than $200, and between $300 and $400 during the spring and summer, the report said.

Yet just three surveyed workers filed complaints with the state Department of Labor, according to the report.

Department of Labor spokeswoman Kerri Gatling said the state does not keep track of types of complaints, so there is no way to know how many of the 9,598 complaints made to the state between June 30, 2009, and July 1, 2010, were from day laborers. The state did recover $8.3 million of wages or overtime for 8,845 workers over that time period, she said. The state does not ask about immigration status, Gatling said.

Diana Mejia, a co-founder of Wind of the Spirit, said her group helped 47 Morris County workers get close to $30,000 in lost wages last year by negotiating with employers, all without help from the state. She said her group routinely holds meetings to help day laborers deal with employers who won’t pay them. It also helps clients file complaints with the state.

Just two of the six workers attending Thursday night’s meeting had made such a complaint.

Delsi Cardona, a 23-year-old single mother of a 4-year-old boy, said an employer threatened her with deportation after she asked to be paid money that she was owed. She has not yet filed a complaint.

“I’m very afraid,” she said.

Alfonso Ortiz, 47, of Morristown hasn’t filed a complaint because he came to Wind of the Spirit three years after he said a flooring company stiffed him for $1,100. The law requires filing within two years, Mejia said.

“It’s too long,” she said of Ortiz’s case. “We still say we’ll try to help him.”

Silvano Jimenez Camacho, 28, of Morristown and Alejandro Flores, 22, of Parsippany both filed complaints with the state. Camacho said he is owed $1,200 from a flooring company where he worked last year. Flores said a pizzeria owner held a week’s salary as a “deposit” and kept it, along with his last week’s pay, a total of $1,350.

Both of those complaints are waiting to be adjudicated and are not yet available as public records.

Flores has been in the U.S. since he was 16 and has a 4-year-old daughter. He was not initially aware that keeping a week’s salary as a “deposit” was unusual.

He also did not seem to know about overtime. He said he has since found another job that pays better, about $800 a week for at least 10 hours a day, six days a week. He added that he sometimes works more than 12 hours a day but gets the same pay.

Abbott Koloff: 973-428-6636; akoloff@njpressmedia

Source: Daily Record

Unsafe rides are just part of the job for flier distributors

Posted Saturday, Mar. 26, 2011 | By Barry Shlachter –

"Walkers," who hang advertising fliers on homes' doorknobs, get ready to leave in the back of a pickup at a south Fort Worth convenience store Wednesday. – Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison

It’s 5:15 on a Wednesday morning, and about two dozen men are milling around several white cargo vans and a pickup with a wooden camper shell, hoping to be chosen to be crammed inside and taken to a suburban neighborhood.

There, the “walkers” will disembark to distribute fliers house to house, rubber-banding them to doorknobs and earning about $50 for six hours of work.

None of the day laborers at the Shamrock station on Fort Worth’s south side that morning expressed concern that only one of the vehicles had seats behind the driver.

They were more upset that the sole Ford Econoline in good condition and equipped with benches and seat belts already had a crew selected.

Noting bald rear tires on one van, a laborer named Michael Scannell defended the use of such vehicles, insisting: “We have a pretty good safety record.”

A 53-year-old man who identified himself only as Fred, and who would end up left behind that morning without work, said he’d climb aboard “as long as the van is safe. If it wobbles and shakes, it’s not safe.

“Anyway, I got to get money somehow, and this is better than robbing banks.”

Three people were killed and seven others were injured March 4 when the cargo van they were in careened off of Airport Freeway and ran into a tree. They were working as "walkers" for Reed Distributing. – Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner

But all the laborers were aware of the March 4 accident that killed three walkers and injured seven others when a similar Econoline cargo van careened out of control on Airport Freeway.

Haltom City police said the 1995 van belonging to Fort Worth’s Reed Distributing was traveling at normal highway speeds when it burst a tire and rammed into a tree.

Found inside were an open bottle of Mad Dog 2020 fortified wine and fliers for a New York-style pizza chain, Carmine’s Pizzeria of Dallas and Lewisville. Police have yet to release toxicology results on the injured driver or a final accident report. But they said several of the tires were worn.

Mohan “Mike” Sedan, the Shamrock station’s Nepalese-born manager, recalled confronting one of the Reed drivers after the accident.

“I told him you shouldn’t put people in a van like that on the road. He said nothing,” Sedan said. “Even in Nepal, we have seats in vans.”

This may change. Two flier-distributing services not involved in the accident said they are reviewing their use of such vehicles and may install seats. Up until now, the industry has taken advantage of loopholes in state and federal road safety regulations to hold down costs.

Seats not mandated

It’s an open secret in the door-hanger advertisement industry that most walkers are typically transported in secondhand cargo vans with no seat belts or, for that matter, seats.

“That’s pretty much the norm in the industry,” said Jim Garner of Cedar Hill-based Always Distributing, a family-owned business founded in 1954.

Otherwise, explained Lee Brown, owner of H&H Distributing in Fort Worth, they couldn’t pack in 10 people with thousands of fliers.

The owner of the demolished Ford Econoline, Paul Reed of Reed Distributing, defended the use of such vehicles.

“I am doing nothing against the law at this point,” he told the Star-Telegram.

As far as carrying people in cargo vans without seats, Reed is correct.

Under Texas law, as in most other states, seat belts are not required for adults in a cargo van that has no seats. And while the Econoline owner’s manual warns of potential serious injury or death for anyone riding in the cargo area, there’s no state or federal prohibition against carrying adults in the back, the Texas Department of Public Safety said. Because there are no seat belts, restrictions on capacity don’t apply. And because no one is charged for the transportation, the contract workers who drive the vans are not regulated either.

“Tragedies such as these are a reminder that more needs to be done to protect the rights and safety of workers,” said Pablo Alvarado, director of the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “Day laborers, like those who lost their lives, go to great risks to humbly provide for their families. Employers must be responsible for their safety during and en route to work.”

Neil Donovan, executive director for the National Coalition for the Homeless, said he has tried to prevent unsafe cargo vans from cruising for day laborers.

“When I operated a shelter in Boston, we would run off vans that came by,” Donovan said from Washington. “It’s a pervasive problem. I don’t think there’s a community that doesn’t have exploitation. Where there are people who are in need, there are people who take advantage.”

Many cargo vans that carry "walkers" to neighborhoods have no seats behind the driver. – Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison

Flier distributors aren’t the only businesses using seatless cargo vans to transport day laborers. Firms that provide cleanup crews at sports stadiums have fleets of battered Ford cargo vans in which workers sit on nothing more than floorboards.

Walkers like those involved in the Airport Freeway accident typically cover 10 or 15 miles a day for $40 to $55, said Calvin McDaniel, a homeless Fort Worth resident who has worked for several local door-hanger services.

The companies say it is a very cheap but highly effective way for businesses to reach consumers. Only one local firm, Walker Weathersby Advertisements of Arlington, advertises its rates. They start at $149 for 1,000 fliers affixed to front doors. The cost to landscaping services, insurance companies, churches and pizza restaurants is a fraction of the cost of mailing postcards or running newspaper ads.

But the business has a sketchy reputation because of concerns that the impoverished workers — paid by the number of pieces distributed — might simply take the money and dump the fliers, said H&H’s Brown, a 32-year veteran of the business who says his own firm has confidential safeguards to ensure delivery. Others say they make spot checks to guarantee a neighborhood’s coverage.

The low rates in a highly competitive industry mean firms rely on some of society’s most desperate workers, who won’t question conditions.

“You don’t think about risks,” said McDaniel, 40, who was a walker for about 21/2 years until he switched to cleanup work recently. “You choose money over safety.”

Early each morning, there’s a scramble for the best place to ride inside a cargo van, he said.

“I try to get the wheel well hump; otherwise you get scrunched up. But whatever you get, there’s nothing to hold on to,” McDaniel said. “They know if you are needy enough to get in these vans, they can treat you any way they want.”

After sweeps of streets near the Presbyterian Night Shelter and south-side boarding houses, vans from several flier services often stop at the Shamrock station on Hemphill Street and hand out advance pay of about $20 for coffee and cigarettes.

McDaniel described Reed Distributing as one of the better companies, saying it had never stranded him in an unfamiliar neighborhood, depriving him of his $55 earnings, which he claimed had happened with a rival service.

Paul Reed said he intended to pay for the funerals of the three dead workers — James Rice, 51, and Kenneth Johnson, 42, both of Fort Worth, and Karen Guffee, 53, of Mansfield — but declined to be interviewed further for this report.

Fixing up the vans

H&H’s Brown, who overtly advertises a Christian ethical approach to business and uses an evangelical symbol in his company logo, said he was so shaken by the cargo van crash that he’s rethinking the use of seatless vehicles. Only two of the company’s five vans now have back rows of seats.

“We’re in the process of getting seats,” said Brown, pointing out several bench seats placed on the pavement behind the H&H building. On Wednesday morning, he said, he found all the brackets needed to convert some GM truck benches for his Ford vans. “We’re going to fix all of them up.”

Asked why he hadn’t done so earlier, he replied:

“You take out the seats because it’s hard to fit in 10 guys and the paper fliers. And the law in Texas doesn’t require it. When I started out in this business, you sat on a milk crate. That’s how paper trucks are.”

A black milk crate was found among sleeping bags, fliers and a walking cane in the wrecked Reed van, now a designated crime scene.

Brown said that his insurance carrier has been told how his contract walkers are transported.

“And when we had accidents, the insurance company paid,” he said, then conceded: “They may have been injured less if they had seat belts.”

Although Brown has decided to put in seats, he asserted that they may not have prevented the deaths in the Airport Freeway crash. He noted that one victim, Guffee, was belted in a front passenger seat.

Referring to the driver, who survived, he said, “That guy ran into a tree going very fast.”

“If it’s unsafe to ride in a cargo van, why not ban motorcycles?” he asked. “Even motorcycle cops don’t wear seat belts.”

One of H&H’s contract drivers, a former walker named Arthur Hughes, 60, said he purposely leased a Ford van with seats “so people will be comfortable. I don’t want people flying around. I’m more people-oriented.”

Jim Garner, who runs Always Distributing said, “We’re like everyone else. We use cargo vans.” Garner said he too was shaken by the accident, prompting a review of his fleet of five cargo vans.

Will he upgrade to seats?

“We’re looking into it. We’re exploring the possibility,” he said. But, he added, the several thousand dollars to equip a cargo van with seats would be prohibitive.

“As my equipment gets dated, I’ll probably go to vans with that equipment already in it, instead of retrofitting.”

Not all local flier delivery services rely on cargo vans. Two say they use minivans with factory-installed seats and seat belts.

Robert Stafford, 45, of Richardson-based Ace Flyer Distribution, said he operates four secondhand Dodge Grand Caravans and limits riders to seven, not 10.

“I may be one of the few exceptions in this business,” Stafford said. “I will not put people on the floorboards.”

“We use a van too, but it has seats,” said Zakk Weathersby, 25, a former walker who operates Walker Weathersby. “It sounds kind of unsafe not to have seats.”

Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718

Source: Star-Telegram

N. Carolina day laborers receive help from Hispanic “angels”

Published March 28, 2011 | EFE

Charlotte – Members of an Hispanic group have made themselves into “angels” by offering a plate of free food to day laborers suffering the consequences of being unemployed and dealing with tightening immigration laws in North Carolina.

This is a situation that is a new one for Charlotte – which up until recently represented the “American Dream” – for many immigrants due to the abundance of jobs, for instance a group of Hispanics who meet each day between Wendover and LaTrobe streets in the southeastern part of the city.

One by one they arrived there despite the unusually low temperatures on one Spring Friday morning with the hope of finding “something to do” to earn their daily bread.

The phenomenon of the day laborers is more common in the agricultural sector in states like California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, all of which have a large immigrant presence.

Juan Nava, originally from Puebla, Mexico, who has been in Charlotte for six years and without work since last November, knows that each day he must compete with another 40 day workers to find a job doing “whatever.”

“We expose ourselves to many dangers,” he tells Efe. “Not getting paid, getting robbed, being left in a far corner of the city, but the need forces us to do it due to the lack of jobs. Sometimes I come here with $2 in my pocket and finish the day with $40.”

Meanwhile, Leo Koi, another Mexican, said that he became a day laborer after losing a stable job he’d held for 11 years due to his lack of immigration papers, but he added that he’d never failed to pay his taxes each year since he arrived in Charlotte in 1998.

“I have three American children and I never thought I’d end up like this, looking for work on a corner. Here, there was plenty of work before, but the economic situation and the immigration programs have made it hard to earn a living,” Koi said.

A Honduran, Marlon Cantor, said that he prefers looking for work on the corner, which is well-known among immigrants, rather than returning to his country where there are no jobs anyway.

“We build them their houses, skyscrapers, highways, s, ping centers, schools, and … now they don’t want us,” said Cantor.

Because of the situation caused by the lack of work facing the immigrants, a group of Samaritans from the local chapter of MIRA USA two weeks ago started providing breakfast every Friday to the day workers in the area.

MIRA is a nonprofit organization that started up in Colombia 10 years ago and moved to the United States to continue its social work.

The volunteer group now has 19 branches in 11 U.S. states.

Jonathan Castañeda, coordinator of the 50-member MIRA USA chapter in Charlotte, said that the inspiration for the Samaritan work is Jorge Muñoz, known as the “Angel of Queens,” a Colombian who years ago distributed free food to homeless people on a corner in the New York City borough and was publicly recognized by President Barack Obama.

For the day laborers, the presence of the MIRA volunteers one day a week tells them that they are not alone and that someone is looking out for them.

“By giving them hot coffee and a sandwich, I think that we motivate them to keep moving forward despite the difficult situation. This comes from our hearts and we’re not looking for recognition,” said Colombian Juan Carols Estrada.

The day laborers, emphasizes Ecuadorian immigrant Glenn Mercado, are people who suffer racism and other types of mis but are very worthwhile because they are good workers.

While day laborers and others have these problems, the MIRA group in Charlotte will continue distributing hope and sharing plates of food.

Source: Fox News Latino

D Magazine Puts “Hire A Day Laborer” On Its “Must Do In Dallas” List

By Cindy Casares | 24 Mar 2011 | 20:51

D Magazine Puts “Hire A Day Laborer” On Its “Must Do In Dallas” List

D Magazine in Dallas just printed a must-do list featuring “52 Things Every Dallasite Must Do” to be “a true local.” On it, between the local restaurant recommendations and the State Fair, view is the item “Hire a day laborer”. Yes, search really.

We took a good look at the list to see if, perhaps, this was a list about getting to know real Dallasites, some of whom are poor and don’t have big hair or drive Cadillacs with longhorns strapped to the hood. It’s not. Amongst D’s exclusive, insidery, locals-only list items are things like “Ride a mechancial bull at Gilley’s.” (Their cover item, actually.) Really, John Travolta circa 1980? Next you’ll be telling us to a Cowboys jersey. Another item on the list is “Get a boob job.” So, in other words, this is a list of things a certain group of people in Dallas might choose to do if they were Lucy Ewing. Fine. But then why would you add to that list “Hire a day laborer” unless what you’re trying to say is you’re not a real Dallasite until you exploit a Mexican?

We emailed D Magazine executive editor Tim Rogers to ask him just that question. He emailed us back this article from D Magazine, published in 2008, by a writer who worked for his buddy’s construction company for ten years to make ends meet, using the services of day laborers all that time.

“Are you saying people SHOULDN’T hire day laborers?” Rogers asked us. “I thought the we offered was very helpful.”

It’s not our place to say whether or not people should hire day laborers. We’re sure day laborers wouldn’t want us to deter you from hiring them. They need the money. What bothers us about D’s list item is its flippant of a very sad and complicated social and economic situation in this country and Latin America. To commodify human beings who are risking their lives to send their families their last dime is, frankly, sickening and more than a little insulting to the Dallasites who read their magazine.

When you place “Hire a Day Laborer” next to “State Fair of Texas” and the “Audobon Center”, like rolling up to the vacant lot on Carroll Avenue is just another diversion for you and your family, you pretty much take the humanity out of your magazine. Get a load of these pointers D Magazine offers:

Hopefully, you have a truck. Anything less makes for an uncomfortable ride to the jobsite. Especially if you’re hiring multiple guys. We once endured an awkward trip in a Miata with one laborer straddling our lap, facing us, and telling us he loved us.

And, on bidding too low:

Be prepared to pay $10–$14 an hour. A few years ago, we offered $7 an hour and dudes scattered as if our vehicle read “INS.”

Oh, ha ha. Why not just say they scattered like cockroaches? What, all of a sudden you’re sensitive?

Source: D Magazine &