REBECCA HUVAL | Posted in Napa Valley Register | Posted: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 9:30 pm
From dawn until dusk, a group of Napa day laborers waits on a hill beside south Napa’s Home Depot parking lot for someone to hire them to move furniture, build a porch or paint a fence for about $10 an hour.
They sit cross-legged on the ground and crack jokes in the sun. On rainy days, they take shelter inside the nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken, the workers said. That’s where they go to the bathroom, too.
“This is our workplace,” said Juan Carlos, 36, of Napa, originally from El Salvador. “Every day, I clean it up.”
Unlike St. Helena, the city of Napa has no day laborer center. As a result, Napa’s day laborers wait for work outside and accept unaccounted money — which violates California law and also has the potential to get them in trouble with authorities, even if they are documented U.S. citizens.
So the workers, along with some community leaders, are hoping to build a day labor center in Napa.
“We can do something beautiful here,” Carlos said. “It doesn’t have to be big. Something small.”
Local activists said they support the idea.
“It’s good for people in the community, too,” said Lilia Navarro, a member of the Napa County Commission on Aging. “Because if people need someone to help in their garden, they can have help.”
At the day laborer center in St. Helena, the director said more than half of the workers come from Napa. Housed in a trailer on the property of Sutter Home Winery, the Work Connection Ministry of St. Helena Catholic Church sees about 30 workers on average per day.
For 15 years, the ministry has linked workers with jobs and asked that employers sign forms assuring they’ll pay at least $10 an hour.
Though most workers come from the city of Napa, the center is partially funded by the city of St. Helena.
“At least Napa could help us support this place,” said Nora Selina Garcia, director of Work Connection Ministry. “We don’t have enough people to support this place. We need some help.”
Their ministry employs two workers and has two volunteers. Even with a small staff, they’ve been able to place hundreds of seasonal workers in vineyard, construction, gardening and housekeeping jobs.
One of their workers has found fieldwork with the same vineyard for eight years, Garcia said.
“If Napa and Vallejo had another center like this, it would be great,” she said. “This is a small place. Last year, in one day, I had 53 workers. And we just have one restroom, and we have men and women. It’s difficult.”
In the south Napa parking lot, the laborers wait for work on private property owned by the South Napa Market Place. They’ve struck an agreement with businesses there to stay in the north lot across from KFC, said Napa Police Lt. Debbie Peecook.
Occasionally, Home Depot managers have complained to police about the workers loitering on private property, Peecook said. “Most of the day laborers have been really good about that, when we ask them to stand in a certain area, though they occasionally need reminders.”
As for more permanent solutions, Mayor Jill Techel said Napa didn’t have a hiring center for day laborers because no one had ever proposed one.
“In cities that have those centers, 80 percent are run by community groups,” not local government, Techel said.
While there have been complaints regarding laborers gathered at South Napa Market Place, they have been handled by police who have negotiated solutions with the men, the mayor said.
These complaints “haven’t been elevated to a political level,” Techel said.
The workers said they’ve talked with local Pastor Ricardo Bolaños of Ministerios Cosecha, or “Harvest Ministries”, but Bolaños couldn’t be reached for this report.
If built, the center could help the laborers find more jobs and become more accessible and approachable to employers, said Laura Lopez, a local activist and Legal Aid of Napa Valley volunteer.
“It’s not that people are lazy and don’t want to find a job,” Lopez said. “The work ethic is there, but the respect for the workers isn’t.”