Keeping It Right

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Location: Moreno Valley, CA

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

L.A. Times - Tough Work, If You Can Find It

My comments are going to be in italic...



Tough work, if you can get it

At a Home Depot in Cypress Park, day laborers hope to find work, even though jobs are rare and pay is low.
The pay is lower and the jobs are fewer, but the pool of laborers looking for work at sanctioned locations grows larger.
Hector Tobar

April 28, 2009
So there I was in the hardware store parking lot, with 150 other guys.

They were all prospective day laborers, and I was not, though I was unintentionally wearing a loose approximation of a jornalero's uniform -- faded baseball cap, khaki pants, the mestizo skin my mother and father bequeathed to me.

Over the course of two hours we talked in Spanish about soccer, religion, politics and, above all, the economy. Only rarely was our conversation interrupted by someone offering a job.

"Let's go and see," Jose Hernandez said when a car stopped at the other end of the parking lot. In an instant, it was surrounded by a dozen men. Two got a job -- 148 or more were left to wait.

The laborers who gather near the Home Depot in Cypress Park do yardwork and construction, mostly. In recent years, $10 has been the preferred hourly wage. These days many will work for less. (Poetic justice, those who came here illegally to work for lowering wages, are being pinched by those continue to come here illegally and work for lower wages. I'm sure the older illegals are bitchin' about the new illegals)

"There are people here who will take $9 or $8 for an hour, or $50 for a whole day's work," Hernandez, a 45-year-old Honduran, told me. The growing number of workers slowly pushes down the wages.

It surprised me, honestly, to find such a big crowd at the hiring site. With the official unemployment rate in Los Angeles County at 11% and thousands of legal residents out of work, I figured the market for informal immigrant labor might have collapsed.

Not so, insisted the guy who ran the taco truck in the parking lot.

"Of course they're still getting work. Would they be out there all day standing in the sun if they weren't?"

The presence of so many men looking for work on the street is one of those things that make people say L.A. is becoming like Latin America.

I've lived in Mexico City and think in a way they're right -- though not for the obvious reasons. It's not the Spanish spoken here, or even the growing gap between our rich and poor.

It's our tolerance of such stark inequality. (What?!, you won't believe how many stories, I've heard from white folk and black folk that latinos are hiring only latinos)

Like the Mexican elite, we native Angelenos have come to accept and enjoy the little perks that come with living among legions of poor people with few enforceable rights. (Racial jab)

"I'll take two guys, for two days," said a woman who arrived at the Cypress Park site with a U-Haul truck. "I can pay $10 an hour. For two hours each day. And you have to be able to speak English." (How dare her, request they speak English, where does she think she is...The United States?!)

The woman said she was moving. "It's not a hard move," she said, but it was too much to do by herself and not enough for a moving company.

At a day-laborer site, you can order up muscle the same way you might order a cord of wood -- no appointment necessary, instant delivery, flexible price. (Excuse me, is that what is offered?)

Back in Latin America, they think of the United States as a country governed by "the rule of law." That's true, except when applied to immigrant labor. (True, we're not doing enough on illegal immigration)

We hire nannies and gardeners to work in our home, and most of us feel free to ignore the trouble of 1099 forms and Social Security taxes -- even while carefully obeying admonitions to recycle our trash or clear our brush. (That tells you what we think of you illegals in the first place, but there are options said illegals can take..like I dunno...Get Out!)

But day-labor sites are the most naked, rawest form of laissez faire capitalism.

American workers have fought for and won overtime and the right to an eight-hour workday. But for a day laborer, not even a glass of water is necessarily a given, according to the guys at the Cypress Park site, who say they are routinely ripped off. (Again poetic justice, illegals routinely rip off hospital emergency rooms and take public aid not meant for you and lets not talk about identity theft!)

I asked Mario Lopez, an assistant manager for the organization that runs six city-sanctioned day-labor hiring sites, including the one at Cypress Park, what my responsibilities would be if I hired a jornalero.

The only rule is that you treat workers fairly, he said, but "there's nothing written."

Day-labor sites across Southern California began to attract large and conspicuous numbers of immigrants a quarter of a century ago.

Back in the 1980s, the Times wrote dozens of stories. Neighbors (still) complained about trash at the sites and the behavior of some workers. Immigrant-rights activists expressed hope that one day the workers would be able to "come out of the shadows" and join the regular workforce.

A generation later, immigrant day labor is an accepted and permanent feature of the urban landscape. Local governments fund and regulate their existence. By so doing, they've given legal standing to a socially acceptable system of inequity.(Please take notice, no one has ever voted for day laborer sites)

Pedro, (an illegal alien) a native of the Mexican state of Michoacan, has been going to a Los Angeles city-sanctioned day-labor site at Cypress Park off and on for six years.

"It's not enough to live on, it's less than what it used to be, but it's still there," he said of the work to be found there. These days, he'll get a job that lasts a day or two -- and then two weeks will go by with nothing.

Declining earnings have driven some of the regulars to homelessness, he said. (Why?! don't they have a shack back where they came from?)

"A lot of people eat at the missions or sleep on el cerro," the hillside, he said, referring to a nearby rocky outcrop in Elysian Park.

If we believe immigrants without documents have a right to be here, we should be working to grant them legal status so they become fully protected workers. (Last checked according to polls, no one but politicians think that, Americans both democrat and republicans don't believe illegals have the right to be here)

If we believe they don't, we should be enforcing the labor and tax laws so that no one works in the shadows. (We try to enforce the laws, but we have weak politicians that can't stomach the vision of seeing people escorted out of this country like the Israelites leaving Egypt, with the exception, we won't be following them in the desert!)

Our society does neither. Meanwhile, our addiction to cheap labor continues unabated.

"True, this is not my country," Pedro told me. "But I don't think that gives people the right to treat me like a criminal."

And now, it seems, this informal, unprotected labor pool is growing. At the Cypress Park site, immigrants with long histories in the U.S. suddenly find themselves looking for work alongside people without documents. (The writer is trying to make a distinction that is not true, every person at these Home Depots are illegals, no one has legal documentation)

Hernandez, the Honduran immigrant, is a legal resident with a stepson in the U.S. Army. He was laid off from a factory job making eyeglasses and has been going to the hiring site since December "because it's better than sitting around home all day doing nothing."

He's trying to keep a positive outlook.

"You're too stressed, catracho," he told another worker, using a slang word for Honduran.

He and others tell stories to pass the time. Like the time a tire came flying off a truck on the freeway overpass that looms over the hiring site.

The tire bounced into the lot and crushed a Mercedes-Benz parked there. A fleet of Los Angeles Police Department squad cars descended on Home Depot, and one took off after the truck driver.

Because in California, one thing is certain: The rules of the road are sacred.

hector.tobar@latimes.com

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