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Valley Perspective

The Carrot and the Stick

Glendale's humane, sensible approach to day laborers

September 15, 1996

Few neighborhood issues raise the hackles of shopkeepers and homeowners more than the dilemma of day laborers who gather on street corners and in parking lots as they search for work. Complaints about the laborers--mostly immigrant men--run the gamut. Sometimes their behavior is offensive: urinating in public or harassing pedestrians. Or sometimes more dangerous conduct is alleged: crimes such as dealing drugs. The laborers' defenders argue that they are just trying to earn enough money to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Community after community has tried to solve the problem through various methods--from opening formal hiring centers to passing tough laws banning the solicitation of work--but none has been completely successful. Cities such as Los Angeles that opened hiring sites discovered much to their chagrin that many workers continued to gather at various corners rather than compete for jobs at the centers. Likewise, cities such as Agoura Hills that tried simply to ban the solicitation of work failed because few alternatives existed.

Glendale, though, appears to have found a solution that is as tough as it is compassionate. By crafting a plan that employs both carrots and sticks, Glendale is better poised than most cities to deal with the day-laborer problem without trampling their rights.

Glendale's plan calls for the construction of a formal hiring center that would include toilets, drinking fountains and a shaded area where workers could sit. At the same time, Glendale has enacted an ordinance that makes it illegal to solicit work outside the center. That way, the hiring center becomes the only place in town where contractors or homeowners can legally hire day workers.

Construction of the simple, open-air structure is expected to begin this month with building materials and some money for staffing donated by a nearby Home Depot store. Once it opens, those who hire workers off the street can be fined as much as $500 or sentenced to up to six months in jail. By prosecuting those who pick up day laborers as well as the workers themselves, city officials hope to push prospective employers to the hiring center. If the jobs are at the center, the reasoning goes, the workers will follow.

In addition to the obvious benefit of keeping the men off the street, Glendale's hiring center offers other perks to both workers and employers. For one thing, workers will be divided up into different skill categories so employers who need someone who can lay bricks or tile a shower will know they're getting the right man. For another, workers hired out of a city-sponsored center are less likely to be cheated by unscrupulous employers.

Arguments that the men will eschew the center because they fear deportation are weakened by the fact that about 75% of the men who regularly look for work in Glendale and other neighborhoods across the San Fernando Valley are legal residents with work papers.

Even civil rights advocates who have protested the heavy-handed efforts of other cities are encouraged by Glendale's plan, saying it effectively regulates day laborers without criminalizing their search for work.

Only time will tell if Glendale's experiment is successful. If so, this sort of humane and sensible approach could well be adopted by other cities looking for a dignified way to keep workers off the streets and in jobs.

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