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Laborers' Step Forward Is a Setback for Day-Care Center

July 13, 1989|SANTIAGO O'DONNELL | Times Staff Writer

The Catholic Youth Organization has a problem.

On Monday the church-run community center's summer day-care program opened, and so far only 20 to 25 children have registered, fewer than half the number in previous years.

The organization's director said parents are afraid of the day laborers, a seemingly destitute, mostly unshaven and poorly dressed group of men who until recently packed the CYO parking lot and crowded its entrance every morning.

The city of Glendale has a problem too. Its solution to the presence elsewhere of day laborers was built around the CYO's ability to accommodate them.

The CYO, on San Fernando Road in Glendale's industrial zone, opened its grounds in September to 20 or 30 workers, mostly undocumented immigrants, who once solicited work at a downtown corner next to a paint store. The voluntary CYO action averted a hotly debated city proposal that would have made it illegal for people to solicit work on public property.

Word got around that the site was city-sanctioned and free of Immigration and Naturalization Service raids. Immigrants from all over Los Angeles County flocked there.

When work became scarce, some men returned to the downtown corner. Now Glendale has two pickup sites for day laborers instead of one, and neither meets the needs of the workers or the construction contractors who typically hire them.

The CYO, in the meantime, is paying for its generosity. It now helps more day laborers than it ever expected, and its other programs are suffering.

City officials say the workers need a new pickup site, but they haven't found an alternative.

Louise Chavez, CYO director, refused to discuss the extent of her efforts to persuade the city to find a new site.

"Right now it's all up in the air," said Rick Reyes, the city's community relations coordinator who is in charge of the day laborer program. "It's not easy to find a place for this type of program, but we're trying."

At first a handful, the number of laborers arriving at the CYO grew to 150 by early June. The crowds made it more difficult for would-be employers to reach the CYO. Workers began camping on San Fernando Road, drifting farther and farther apart and flagging down contractors before they reached the sanctioned pickup site. Mini-mob scenes occurred whenever a contractor slowed his truck to hire workers.

Last month, the CYO hired two part-time supervisors, using its own funds, to try to keep the workers inside the parking lot and organized. They made lists of workers and distributed jobs to those who arrived first.

Now the laborers are back on the streets because the supervisors shoo them off by 9 a.m., when mothers drop off their children.

50 Yards

The workers settle about 50 yards away and patiently wait for work until 1 or 2 p.m., cautiously approaching the CYO building one at a time to use the restroom.

Their presence, albeit a distant one, has transformed the day-care center.

"We used to have at least 50 children, sometimes more than 200," Chavez said as two dozen youngsters sat around a long table, preparing for the first song of the morning. "Look around; we're nowhere close."

"Yes, I'm worried because with all these people, one never knows what can happen," said Nancy Gasalla, 39, who was dropping off her 10-year-old daughter, Caterina. "But the laborers are not here now, and it looks like the situation is under control."

George Medina, 67, whose son Jonathan, 7, had joined the other children, said: "Things look better this morning, but with all those people standing in front of the door, it was impossible to get in. Some of the workers seem to be educated people, but you never know about the rest."

Back on the street corners, workers now wonder why they should bother to sign up for city-approved hiring.

Still Waiting

"The contractors don't bother to go to the CYO," said Bernardo Gutierrez, 46. "They pick up the first workers they spot" on the street corners. "I've been on the list for three weeks, and I'm still waiting for my name to be called."

Most workers, however disheartened by the results so far, said they would continue to cooperate with CYO supervisors because they want to see the list system work.

"There are advantages and disadvantages to the list," said Jose Luis Salcido, 26. "It takes three days to be called up by the supervisors, but they write down the contractor's license plate and the amount they say they will pay, so it's more likely that they will pay us for our work."

Several day laborers have complained that they were not paid by the contractors after a hard day's work. Juan Jose Gomez, 22, said he spent an entire day carrying gravel for a contractor and was not paid for his effort. Another man reported $450 in unpaid wages to supervisors.

"I'm staying put because I have to bring food to my children," Salcido said. "Hope is the last thing one loses."

Less Work

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