By Jennifer Anderson |Source: The Portland Tribune | Sep 1, 2011
Day workers at the city-sponsored day labor center have a message to Portland, three years into the operation: “We’re here to work.”
Every morning, 50 to 100 — sometimes up to 120 — workers gather at the site at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just south of the Oregon Convention Center.
At 7:30 a.m., they put their names into a lottery, which determines who gets jobs as employers roll in. Some days dozens are hired, other days just a handful. They usually earn between $10 and $11 an hour.
Either way, the workers declare the center a success, saying it is a far better alternative to the chaos that reigned at street corners before the work center opened.
“This place is for work,” says Edmundo Caro, a cook who prepares barbacoa and carne asada tacos for Tacos El Jornalero, the taco truck that opened last week at the site to raise money for the center’s operations. “The people that come here come because there’s an order, more organization” than the street corners, Caro says.
Three years into the venture, it’s hard to declare it a success or failure, however. Consider the numbers:
• While the center has provided workers with a total of 11,131 day jobs during the three years, it’s led to just 25 permanent jobs.
• In January, the slowest month of the year, 14 of 75 workers — 18 percent — were hired on the busiest day, Jan. 29. On the slowest day that month, Jan. 11, just one of 77 workers snagged a job.
• Summer is peak season. June 25, the busiest day, saw 39 of 47 workers (82 percent) hired. A week earlier, on June 18, just 7 of 61 workers (11 percent) were hired.
• The center’s first year of operation was the busiest, with 2,405 workers hired in just six months, June to December 2008. In all of 2009, a total of 3,039 workers were hired. In 2010 that climbed to 3,875. This year, a total of 1,812 workers were hired through June. If that pace continues, 2011 will come in just behind last year’s numbers.
The nonprofit Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project, which runs the site, says success is about more than just numbers —it’s about the community they’ve created.
They have established rules (no drinking, s or fighting), daily procedures (the lottery), education (a range of classes taught by volunteer tutors), recreation (a soccer team), and now food.
Tacos are $1, and all proceeds from the taco truck support the venture. Eventually the taco truck may roam various neighborhoods.
“It’s been a good three years,” says Romeo Sosa, Voz’ executive director. “We created trust in the neighborhood and developed a lot of support from all the different groups,” including the surrounding neighborhoods. Laborers have helped to beautify the area, despite the impermanence of their home.