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Glendale Plan Curbs, Aids Day Laborers

Employment: City will build center to coordinate hiring as it outlaws solicitation on public streets.

September 07, 1996|STEVE RYFLE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GLENDALE — As in so many other communities in Southern California, dozens of young Latino men hoping to earn a day's wage line up on Glendale street corners each morning, waiting to be selected by the contractors who will soon arrive.

Nearby merchants and residents have long complained that the day laborers have become a public nuisance. They have grown weary of the city's inability to effectively police a laundry list of infractions by the men, they say: drinking alcohol, harassing women, breaking bottles, public urination.

But unlike officials in other towns, those in Glendale believe they have come up with a solution to the problems posed by disorganized groups of workers gathered on street corners, without infringing on their rights.

First, the City Council moved to create a formal hiring hall for day laborers. But, in addition, the council passed an ordinance outlawing solicitation on public streets by laborers or their employers.

Not even the American Civil Liberties Union opposes the plan, which is due to get underway this month.

"We think this is a very fair and balanced approach," said Javier Ruiz, an officer with the Glendale Police Department who helped create the program.

"There will be no negative impact on the day laborers, because we're not taking anything away from them--we're giving them an improved method of seeking employment. And the day laborers themselves have been begging us to do something like this for a long time," Ruiz said.

Late this month, construction will begin on the hiring facility, located on a leased space on San Fernando Road, across the street from a Home Depot store. The center will be a simple, open-air structure with a shaded area and chairs for the waiting men, with drinking fountains and a restroom.

Though details have yet to be worked out, city officials say they envision a lottery system for doling out jobs. There will be two labor pools--one for general workers and another for those with plumbing, tiling, roofing and other specialty skills.

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Free classes in English and other job-related skills are planned for the men as they wait for work. The operation will be run by two workers from a local charity.

Meanwhile, the city's new "anti-solicitation ordinance," as it is called, takes effect Sept. 27. Police anticipate an "educational period" of about six weeks while the center is under construction, during which they will spend time informing the laborers and those hiring them about the new law, and issuing warnings to those who continue to break it. Once the center opens, hiring day laborers on the street will become a misdemeanor, punishable by fines of up to $500 or six months jail time.

"Right now, I can't make enough money to live in this way," said Edgardo Ugalde, 27, an immigrant from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, who was soliciting work near Home Depot last week. "I can do any kind of work, but the big guys always get picked first because they look stronger. Sometimes I just stand here all day, and nothing.

"If they make it so it's easier to get work, I would try it. I think a lot of guys would try it."

Officials have acknowledged past difficulty in responding to the problem.

"You can call the police, but they can't be there every minute, so after a while they just come back and the problems start all over again," said City Councilwoman Mary Ann Plumley, who supported the ordinance.

Plumley, a Realtor who once had an office near the corner of Broadway and Jackson Street--a popular meeting point for day laborers for more than a decade--said although the day laborers mean no harm, the problems they create are real.

"When I worked there, I wouldn't even walk down that block because it was just very, very uncomfortable," she said. "They would loiter there throughout the day, and they could be very unruly when a woman walked by.

"What's different now is that there's going to be a place for [the day laborers] that will actually help them find work, rather than just hanging around. And we have a law in place that has teeth in it, that says where they can and cannot be, and also goes after the people who hire them."

Hiring centers have existed since the mid-1980s--the city of Los Angeles currently has two, in North Hollywood and Harbor City--but without legislation forcing the laborers to use the site, the competition for work keeps men out on the streets, flagging down cars.

The first known anti-soliciting ordinance aimed at policing day laborers was enacted in the city of Agoura Hills in 1991. The ACLU challenged the law, saying it was racist and restricted the laborers' rights of free speech and assembly, but ultimately the law was upheld in a federal appeals court. Since then, other communities have followed with similar laws, including a county ordinance to weed out day laborer problems in Ladera Heights and La Mirada.

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