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|9/18: Wage theft and local opposition threaten day laborers (2)
Released 15 October 2015  By Haya El Nasser - AlJazeera.com
(....Continue from Part One)
Protecting and educating
Nationally, the push is on to create an organized network to protect day workers but also to educate them so that they can find more permanent jobs.
In Laguna Beach, the Crosscultural Council sends an official to the day laborer site at 6 a.m. to provide some safeguards and monitoring system.
On a recent Thursday, council worker Marlene Avila was keeping a log of every worker who was hired that day, jobs that are doled out via a morning lottery. She writes down the license plate numbers of people who hire them — from individuals to contracting companies — and tries to match the right workers for the jobs.
The Migrant Education Program in Orange and San Diego Counties sends migrant outreach workers to day labor sites to try to get those who might not have finished high school to do so — a long-term goal to improve immigrants’ employment outlook.
Carmela Vásquez, one of the outreach workers who visited the Laguna Beach hiring area last week, said she is working with 50 out-of-school youths aged 16 to 22. Many arrive in the U.S. and go right to work in agriculture or construction.
But it’s a local 17-year-old high school senior who has received national recognition for her volunteer work with day laborers. Shira Alcouloumre has been volunteering since the age of 11, even using her bat mitzvah money to help pay for a $2,500 water fountain at the hiring site here. She teaches English as a second language to the workers.
Alcouloumre founded Laguna Friends in Need, which raised more than $20,000 to pay for an awning at the site, meals, clothing and holiday presents for workers and their families. Her work has earned her a $36,000 prize as one of 15 recipients of the 2015 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards that recognizes teenagers for their commitment to social good and volunteer service. “Tikkun olam” is a Hebrew phrase that means repairing the world.
“I noticed one guy needed eye surgery and we took him to urgent care,” said Alcouloumre, who is greeted with broad smiles by the day laborers.
When she saw that many were not eating the bread she brought them because of toothaches, she reached out to local dentists and distributed 100 toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes. A dental hygienist came to talk to them about dental care.
But now, Alcouloumre is getting a taste of local opposition. The Canyon Alliance of Neighborhoods Defense Organizations (CANDO) is not keen on her proposal to establish a larger structure to expand English classes.
“Our position isn’t that there shouldn’t be day laborers nor were we saying they should be out of Laguna,” said Penelope Milne, president of the association. “Our mission is protecting the rural character of the canyon. … That side of the canyon was always to remain undeveloped in perpetuity.”
CANDO objects to more development, which in turn brings more traffic, and is seeking a compromise to move the center about half a mile away.
“The environmentalists have always been opposed to development on the side the labor area exists,” said Steve Dicterow, Laguna Beach’s mayor pro tem.
The city was sued in 2006 by Judicial Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that has filed similar suits elsewhere. The citizen border patrol group, the Minuteman Project, joined protests of the hiring area. The city won.
Dicterow supports a facility to teach English to the day laborers.
“To me, the greatest divide that keeps people from communicating is the different language,” he said, adding that the hiring area “wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a demand for labor.”
The issue will be taken up by city staff and eventually go to the city council.
“We are certainly torn about it,” said Milne, a dog trainer and 29-year resident of Laguna Beach. “Having day laborers who are working hard to work, driving and getting there at dawn to get work — that is not the mission that we oppose.”
Cruz Moreno, 60, has been in the U.S. since 1978 and is a citizen and father of 10. He’s a welder but “I can do anything,” he said. And he has had to just about anything because finding a permanent job has not been easy.
That’s why he comes to the hiring area. He manages to get two or three days of work a week that pays $15 to $20 an hour. He said the improvements to the day laborer site spearheaded by Alcouloumre and other local groups “helped us a lot.”
Now, there are porta johns, a food truck, water fountain and picnic tables in the shade.
“Before, it was in the wild,” Moreno said.
Alavarado said that local fights against day laborers is a microcosm of the national debate over the fate of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
“The national debate is over whether to accept and include the undocumented who live and work in the United States," he said. "The debate in neighborhoods is to accept or reject 50 or 100 men.”
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