A dozen Latino men, some leaning against a chain link fence, others standing in groups and smoking cigarettes, gathered early one morning on a South El Monte street corner, repeating what they say is an increasingly frustrating ritual.
The men, all but one of them illegal immigrants, were hoping to be hired by the building contractors, gardeners and home repairmen who cruise by the southwest corner of Mountain View Avenue and Weaver Street looking for cheap labor. Suddenly, the group's somber mood turned to mild expectation.
In Broken Spanish
In broken Spanish mixed with English, a man said he needed someone to pour a concrete driveway in Baldwin Park. "I can do that. $40," a teen-ager said in Spanish, as another man translated the offer into English. After some haggling, the Mexican youth struck a deal. The teen-ager, the only one on the corner to get work that day, would earn $35 for the job.
Among those left behind was Edwardo Cen, a dark, broad-chested man from southern Mexico who is a legal resident alien. Still, he said jobs he has picked up on the street corner have provided him his only employment since he lost his job as a shipping and receiving clerk last December. Despite his weekly trips to an employment office, he has failed to land a job that pays more than the minimum wage, he said. In the meantime, Cen said he has fallen three months behind on his mortgage payments.
At two other locations in the San Gabriel Valley, one in Pasadena and the other in the City of Industry, similar scenes are repeated as often as six days a week.
While men have been seeking work from the streets for years, what they are finding is changing, according to the workers, union leaders, immigration officials, state labor officials and immigrants' rights activists.
More people are seeking work and fewer are finding it. Alien in the country legally are competing with undocumented workers as the job market has tightened. As a result of increased competition for jobs, the men seeking work have moved closer to prospective employers by gathering near building supply businesses. And opposition to the practice is growing from unions who say their members lose jobs to the street-corner labor pool.
Alien Numbers Growing
Although no official figures are available on the numbers of workers or pickup points, Harold Ezell, regional commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), said both have increased because of the growing number of illegal aliens crossing from Mexico.
While the INS may occasionally raid the pickup points to apprehend illegal aliens, it is more productive to concentrate on large businesses and illegal crossings at the border, Ezell said.
Immigrants' rights advocate Antonio Rodriguez, an attorney with the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice, said that more people are seeking work at pickup points, but he thinks chronic unemployment in the Latino community, not increased immigration from Latin America, is leaving legal and undocumented Latino workers no choice but to seek work on the streets.
"The problem is unemployment," said Ignacio Ruso, 47, of Hacienda Heights as he stood in front of a building supply store in the 200 block of South Turnbull Canyon Road in Industry. "Because here, you can have papers and not get work," said Ruso, a mason from Bogota, Colombia, who said he is a legal resident of this country. The handsome gray-haired man said he has not landed a job in 15 days, but in recent years had been getting work at least once a week.
Weeks With Nothing
"Work is bad right now, and there are more people on the street," said a pale, 20-year-old youth as he stood near a two-block-long pickup point east of Marengo Avenue on Villa Parke Street in Pasadena. "There are weeks I get nothing," said the youth, an illegal alien who asked not to be identified.
Seraphin Espinoza, a community worker at the Villa Parke Community Center in Pasadena, comes into daily contact with the workers who gather in front of the center. In the last five years, Espinoza said, the number of men seeking work on the street jumped from about 15 a day to 60 or more.
Because of stiffer competition for jobs, he said, those seeking work stand alone or in pairs. "To them it's life or death," Espinoza said. "If they can stand by themselves, they can negotiate a better deal than with a bunch of guys swarming around saying they can work cheaper."
Mexicans Have Dominated
Unemployment, Rodriguez said, is also pushing growing numbers of citizens and legal residents aliens to join the labor pool dominated since the 1940s by Mexicans, and which today includes workers from throughout Central and South America.
An official with the state Division of Labor Standards, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, said that black workers are also joining street labor pools.
Because long-established pickup points are becoming crowded, some of the workers have staked out new locations where they wait to be hired.