Friday, April 14, 2006

Day Laborers in Hollywood, Los Angeles, and the United States

It's been clear from the recent protests that Los Angeles is going to take a leadership role in any national discussion of immigration. When I attend meetings of the National League of Cities, I'm always looking for answers to the issues we're grappling with as a city; one of the most pressing ones has been how to deal with the congregations of day laborers, mostly around home-improvement superstores such as Home Depot (but also at moving companies or smaller hardware stores). More often than not, I find out that other cities are looking at Los Angeles to see how we deal with such issues.

It's clear that the vast majority of the people who show up there want to find work, but the sites often attract a small minority of loiterers, some drunk, some just...disorderly. Often, the crush of people seeking work can cause traffic jams or accidents going into and out of parking lots.

Our city has chosen to deal with this as a public safety issue, taking into account the rights and interests of customers, residents, and the laborers themselves; unorganized, they are subject to extraordinary abuse, exploitation and often injury at work. We also believe that it's the responsibility of the stores themselves, especially when they are on the scale of a Home Depot, to help address the problem.


For years, the city has addressed these concerns through the day laborer center program funded and administered by the Community Development Department. To quote from their website:

The Day Laborer Program in the City of Los Angeles is a public safety program, which allows persons seeking casual labor work to safely congregate and be matched with employers seeking temporary workers.

The main objective of the program is to reduce the number of day laborers who congregate in the various corners within the community, instead having them congregate at fixed sites located in select areas of the City. The Day Laborer program provides the supervision of the site and community outreach....

In CD13, the biggest center of day laborers has been at the Home Depot at Sunset and St. Andrews. For years, there was a day-labor center in Hollywood about half a mile from Home Depot; it was used by people who knew it was there, and it provided organized access to labor for the workers and customers who used it, but since it was so far away, many just showed up at the site unorganized, defeating the purpose.

After working with CDD, the neighbors, and getting Home Depot to contribute space and resources (some in kind), we opened the new Hollywood Day Laborers' Center late last year. It's visible improved the blocks around that Home Depot. It's a safer, more rational solution, and it's getting results. We know that continued progress will require extraordinary efforts and energy from the folks running the center and attention from Home Depot and the police. But consider these statistics, from March 2006 alone:
  • 224 workers registered at the Center
  • 833 jobs have been obtained by workers; 219 were permanent, 317 were temporary and 297 were casual
  • donations valuing up to $10,000 in food, clothing, etc. have been made to the center
  • When waiting for employment, workers can take English classes or receive education from Planned Parenthood on contraception, STDs, and medical resources
  • An average of six workers each day volunteer doing outreach, cleanup, and picking up donations
  • Day Laborers are even working with neighbors to clean up trash and arrange for bulky item pick up.

As early as December of last year, we had counted that 52% of registered workers get hired each day, 90% of employers are going to the Center rather than picking up workers at the corners, and 2/3 of workers are going to Center rather than hanging out at the corners—and that last number has ticked upwards since then.

Earlier this year, Dr. Abel Valenzuela at UCLA released a study that captured in detail the lives, work patterns, and economies of day laborers. From UCLA's promotional material: "Interviewers asked about the workers’ educational backgrounds, family lives, occupational histories and experiences as day laborers, including injuries sustained on the job and the nature and frequency of abuse at the hands of employers, merchants, police and security guards." The full study can be downloaded here. It's worth checking out to understand the lives of a part of our society, and to understand one way in which Los Angeles will set the terms for our national discussion.