Burbank and Glendale Day Labor Centers

You probably already know that these two day labor centers are my regular haunts.

Chicago Tribune

BURBANK, Calif. — At last, Miguel Castillo is supervising a triumph, a new center for the hiring of day laborers, an achievement culminating years of struggle for advocates like him.

The concrete building is modest. But as soon as the facility opened last month at the corner of a site where a Home Depot was built, it provoked a counter-movement. Opponents contend the center legitimizes illegal immigrants who make up the vast majority of day laborers, an estimate not disputed by Castillo, the Catholic Charities coordinator who runs the site.

Built by Home Depot at the city’s insistence, the center addresses a growing fact of life at America’s big-box home stores: It eliminates the sidewalk hustling of desperate laborers and gives workers an orderly place for negotiating a spot job.

But as President Bush highlighted last week in his State of the Union address, illegal immigration remains a national quagmire, and some protesters have labeled the Burbank site and others like it “open slave markets.”

“The day labor center phenomenon is gaining popularity as a direct result of Home Depot interjecting itself as a facilitator in the creation of these facilities,” said Joseph Turner, 28, a San Bernardino activist who a year ago founded Save Our State, a non-profit group that aggressively challenges illegal immigration and day-laborer centers.

“They are clearly aiding and abetting illegal aliens,” said Turner, who used to be a junior trader on Chicago’s LaSalle Street.

Castillo, 40, a former day laborer and a native of Zacatecas, Mexico, doesn’t understand the fuss. He insists the facility is an innovative model to help employers and the workers.

Home Depot built it, then deeded the site to the city; the retailer pays a $94,000-a-year fee, which the city uses to pay Catholic Charities to run the center, a city planner said.

“They don’t like this [center]; they don’t like the illegal people,” Castillo said. “They protest the people being on the street, being in the center. I can’t understand them. They’re ridiculous.”

First of its kind

The Burbank facility is the first of its kind for the nation’s second-largest retailer: Never before has Home Depot been required to build a day-laborer center in tandem with a store and then pay an annual fee that ultimately finances the center’s operation, a spokeswoman said.

With a drive-through for homeowners or contractors to pick up the handymen, the center requires workers to fill out a job application but doesn’t check their legal status.

The site offers a bathroom, water cooler, picnic tables and a shade awning for workers-in-waiting.

Home Depot says it is merely complying with local officials’ requirements and added that the undocumented status of many day laborers is “a complex community issue” that’s outside the retailer’s realm, spokeswoman Kathryn Gallagher said.

Burbank’s demand for the approximately 2,500-square-foot worker site coincides with Home Depot’s ban on day laborers and other outsiders soliciting store customers, she said.

“Are we going to lead in the development of these policies and solutions? Absolutely not. We are going to do what the local community or police department tell us to do,” Gallagher said.

A national study released last month by the University of Illinois at Chicago and two other universities cited what researchers called “a growing zeal for home improvement” behind the increased use of day laborers.

More than three-fourths of the laborers are undocumented, though they are a small fraction of the overall illegal immigrant population, the study said.

A Home Depot store in the Chicago suburb of Cicero has hired a mediator in the dispute over laborers seeking jobs near its property. Cicero police arrested five laborers in January, and 55 were arrested during the summer at the store on West 26th Street and South Cicero Avenue. The mediator will be meeting with town officials and the Latino Union, an advocacy group representing the day laborers.

California is proving to be a hotbed for local regulation and monitoring of job sites and day laborers, who sometimes create a nuisance by loitering, drinking and urinating, officials said. The Los Angeles City Council is considering requiring such centers.

Meanwhile, Congress is considering several immigration reforms, including requiring day-laborer centers to check for workers’ legal status.

Home Depot has been involved in some way in the establishment of five other day-laborer centers, including one that has since closed, in the Los Angeles area, Gallagher said.

A separate day-laborer site, also run by Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, is across the street from another Home Depot in Glendale, a few miles from the Burbank site, but the 2,000-store chain hasn’t been involved in establishing that facility, Gallagher said.

At the foot of the Verdugo Mountains, Burbank is a scenic suburb, and city officials were certain that the new Home Depot would lure temporary workers to city streets.

“The whole point for the center is to provide an alternative to standing on the street, and this is a place where people can come, pull their car or their truck inside the facility and talk directly to people in charge and hire somebody if they choose to,” said deputy city planner Roger Baker.

Decade-long fight

The on-site hiring centers mark a victory for day-laborer advocates, who have pressed for such conveniently located facilities for more than a decade, said Antonio Bernabe, an organizer for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

“Home Depot has said, `No, no, not in my yard. Find a place a block from here. Not in my yard.’ They were trying that all the time,” Bernabe said.

Not all hiring centers near area Home Depots seem effective, however.

In nearby Glendale, the hiring site across from another Home Depot resembles a fenced migrant camp, with a tarp, mobile unit and portable toilets right next to a railroad that kicks up dust every time an Amtrak train passes.

One afternoon last week, several men ignored the center and solicited on the curbs and exits of the parking lot.

One laborer, 39, who gave his name as Manuel, said he traveled from the Mexican state of Chiapas a year ago so he could find work in the United States as a gardener. He didn’t like the idea of waiting for work in the center.

“I don’t ever go there,” Manuel said. “Over there, there’s a boss and if your number doesn’t come up, you don’t have work.”

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