By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Alvarado joins Martinez, and the two organizers patiently try to persuade the workers to come to the new site to look for work, instead of standing on the corner here. A couple of workers say that they've tried to get work at the new site, and there weren't enough jobs.
"The site's just starting up," Alvarado explains. "It will take a little time to get the contractors to use it. That's what we're doing with the leaflets. But if we all go over there, the contractors will come, too. They'll have no choice." The new site, Martinez tells them, has free coffee and plastic chairs for the workers to sit on while they wait. There's a blue awning to provide relief from the sun or shelter from the rain.
And it has one other big plus: no raids.
"Before the new site, there were three big sweeps by the Hollywood Division here, with a lot of arrests," Martinez reminds the workers. "They came out here with guns drawn and made everyone lie facedown on the sidewalk. They put handcuffs on people. What will happen if they come again and arrest you? What will happen to your children then? Think about it."
A few heads nod in grudging acknowledgment. Some of the workers who have been yelling at Martinez remember the raids. The memory is bitter and humiliating.
CHIRLA started organizing this corner more than a year ago. Once a core of workers had formed the committee that voted to organize a new site, IDEPSCA and Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg persuaded Sears to donate the use of an old parking lot behind its store, and the city provided funds for staffing the site.
Located off the main thoroughfare, it's not an ideal location, but it's the best CHIRLA could get. The workers who committed to finding work at the new location were frustrated, in their turn, when contractors continued to pick up workers on the curb across from Home Depot. The curbside workers were taking their jobs. The workers at the new site put pressure on the CHIRLA organizers to do something.
"They had the same desperation at our site that these people have here on the corner," Martinez explains. "They confronted us, and we all decided to go out and leaflet the contractors. Last Saturday, 43 people found work at the new site. Only two were left at the end of the day."
The longest-organized CHIRLA sites in the city are those in North Hollywood and Harbor City - the original hiring halls set up by the city of Los Angeles in 1989. Today, they provide a vision of what finding a day-labor job can be like. The North Hollywood site, off Sherman Way, has a drive-through area where contractors can pull up to do their hiring. Farther inside the big triangular lot, an open area with an awning shelters workers as they play checkers, talk and drink coffee. A portable building provides space for literacy classes and a tiny office with computers.
Rows of cabbages and onions, extending 50 yards, hug the fence at the edge of the property. Chile seedlings poke through the light-brown soil. A few men in work clothes stoop among the plants, picking weeds and spraying with hoses. Many of L.A.'s day laborers were farmers, and this garden is eloquent evidence of their love for the land.
On a recent morning, a blue pickup truck with a rack of two-by-fours on the back pulls into the lot. A young white man in paint-spattered work clothes gets out. Some of the waiting laborers point to a counter under the awning, on which sit two plastic jars. In the jar with the yellow plastic lid, every worker has put an orange ticket bearing his name. In the other jar, with its green top, are the names of the workers who speak English. After taking a name from each jar, the contractor asks the site manager about the expected wages. He's told to talk to the workers whose names he's drawn. After a brief discussion, the contractor agrees to $8 an hour, and the laborers climb into the back of his truck.
Gone are the days - at this and other CHIRLA sites, at least - when workers crowded around the contractors, clamoring for work. "If the contractor already knows who he wants to hire, we let him ask for specific people by name," explains Victor Narro, the CHIRLA staff member and lawyer who manages the day-labor programs. "Also, contractors can request specific skills, like carpenter, welder or painter."
While the day laborers' first priority at the North Hollywood site is finding work, they find other things there as well, friendships and a sense of community. When it took over the city-funded hiring operation two years ago, CHIRLA brought more than additional resources and building materials (for the portable structure in which English classes are held, for example). Instead of just helping a few people get jobs, Pablo Alvarado, Victor Narro and other CHIRLA staff viewed the day-labor progam as a means to unite the workers. Once they were organized, the workers themselves were able to take the steps that can lead to an increase in earning power.