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Orange County

City Will Keep Job Center Open, but Users Will Pay

Hiring: Costa Mesa raises fees for day laborers and imposes one on contractors.

April 03, 2002|H. G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Day laborers lined up for work Tuesday at Costa Mesa's job center, a day after the City Council voted to keep the facility open and charge contractors a fee for using the hiring hall.

Sitting outside on metal chairs in the chilly morning air, job seekers--113 of them by day's end--waited for contractors and other prospective employers to drive by the old gas station that has served as a hiring hall for 13 years.

The job center, though, has been a lightning rod for controversy, and critics have asked that it be closed down.

But the council voted 4 to 1 on Tuesday to keep funding the city-owned center and impose a fee on contractors beginning July 1, Deputy City Clerk Mary Elliott said. Officials have not set the contractor fee, but workers who live in the city will be required to pay $10 a year. Job seekers who live outside the city will pay $15.

Nonresidents and locals alike currently pay a one-time $5 registration fee, center coordinator Christina Sanchez said. The new workers fees will also go into effect July 1.

The center has a reputation as one of the best-run facilities of its kind in Orange County, and police say it thins out the groups of unemployed men who gather in parks or other public places looking for short-term employment.

Critics say the center promotes illegal employment because some of the workers are in the U.S. illegally and are prohibited from working by Immigration and Naturalization Service rules. Some neighbors complain that the center, at the corner of 18th Street and Placentia Avenue, attracts poor people and workers who live outside the city.

In 2001, city officials estimated that 35% or 40% of the laborers who used the facility were nonresidents. Most are Latino.

The hiring hall is open from 6 to 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Each prospective worker is given a number after registering and required to wait outside.

Contractors pull up in front and tell a center employee how many workers they need and the type of job they will be doing. Workers qualified to do the work then raise their numbers, and contractors pick by number.

Job centers like the one in Costa Mesa also offer workers some protection from unscrupulous employers. Contractors are required to register whenever they pick up a worker. While employers do not have to provide employee benefits, like disability insurance, the centers take legal action against employers who cheat workers out of wages.

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