Cities grapple with how to deal with day laborers
November 26, 2004
REDONDO BEACH, Calif. – Looking back, the man who drove up and offered Braulio Gonzalez $10 an hour to break up a concrete driveway did seem suspicious. His truck didn’t have license plates and he wouldn’t say where the job was, telling the day laborer to follow in his car.
Still, Gonzalez was caught off guard a few minutes later when police from this Los Angeles suburb arrested him and three other laborers as they turned into a dead end street.
Gonzalez was caught up in an unusual – and critics say unconstitutional – sting operation that underscores the vastly different responses U.S. cities have offered to the growing number of men, often Hispanic immigrants, who wait on street corners for a day’s work.
Cities such as Thousand Oaks, another Los Angeles suburb, and Hoover, Ala., set aside space for workers to gather and even to take English classes. Others, from Prince William County, Va., to Redondo Beach, have decided the best way to handle public complaints about the pick up spots is to move the men along with citations – and arrests.
Conflicts are increasingly common as temporary laborers become a permanent fixture of the U.S. labor market, particularly in construction, landscaping and do-it-yourself home improvement, according to researchers who study the issue.
“The notion of looking for work in this manner annoys a lot of people,” said Abel Valenzuela, a University of California Los Angeles sociologist who has surveyed day laborers around the country. “Most cities react negatively.”
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In Redondo Beach, where undercover police arrested about 60 day laborers in a series of sting operations last month, city officials say they’re just doing their job to maintain order.
Laborers call it harassment.
“We’re not criminals. We go where we have to go to get work,” said Gonzalez, a legal U.S. resident and former merchant seaman who supports a wife and young son on trickle-in wages that can be up to $110 on a good day and nothing at all on a bad one.