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Burbank Hiring Site Draws Ire

Protests are planned as a Home Depot and an adjacent day laborer center are set to open.

January 10, 2006|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

Days after dozens of protesters rallied at a day laborer site in neighboring Glendale, Burbank officials are preparing to celebrate the grand opening of a Home Depot and an adjacent hiring center.

They are also preparing for protests.

The City Council took the unusual step of requiring Home Depot to construct the hiring hall as a condition of building the store, sparking a contentious public debate with some accusing the council of catering to illegal immigrants. The store and the center are scheduled to open Thursday.

Protesters plan to attend the council's meeting tonight, when the panel is expected to approve a one-year agreement with Catholic Charities to run the hiring hall. Demonstrators also plan a rally for Saturday at the new center.

"The end result is a loss of jobs that rightfully belong to American citizens, because of cheap labor and corrupt employers," said Barbara Coe, chairwoman of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform.

City officials said that when Home Depot applied for a building permit, they anticipated day laborers would gather in front of the store waiting for construction jobs.

To avoid tensions with neighbors, the council decided to make Home Depot responsible for building a hiring site, hoping it would provide a safe and orderly way for the laborers to get jobs.

"We've been proactive and I think we are doing the right thing," said Burbank City Manager Mary Alvord.

The city of Los Angeles is considering an ordinance that would require all large home improvement stores to build hiring sites for laborers. But if Congress approves a pending immigration bill next month, cities would be prohibited from imposing such requirements on businesses.

The bill could also require centers to verify the legal status of laborers, a provision that some immigrant rights groups fear could shut down hiring sites.

Day laborer sites around the nation have been at the core of the debate over illegal immigration. For months, immigration reform groups have been holding protests at centers, arguing that cities that fund hiring sites are breaking the law by matching undocumented immigrants with employers.

Demonstrators staged a "National Day of Protest" on Saturday targeting cities that fund centers and employers who hire laborers. In addition to Glendale, Southland protests took place in Rancho Cucamonga, Laguna Beach and Lake Forest.

Joseph Turner, who runs Save Our State, said Home Depot should have challenged Burbank over the construction of the hiring center.

"Why hasn't Home Depot fought cities like Burbank?" Turner asked. "The answer is that it's all about money."

Building the day laborer site was "a means to an end" for Home Depot, said Burbank store spokeswoman Kathryn Gallagher.

"The center was required by the city in order for us to open a store in the city," she said, "and we wanted to open a store."

But Burbank, not Home Depot, will own and operate the center, Gallagher said.

Home Depot must pay the city $94,000 each year, however, to cover the cost of additional city services related to the operation of the store. The city has decided to use the money for the daily operation and management of the temporary worker center, according to its agreement with Catholic Charities.

Immigrant rights groups argue that day laborer centers help prevent public health and safety problems by giving workers a place to congregate. They also contend that centers protect the rights of workers.

Pablo Alvarado, who heads the Day Labor Organizing Network, said the new hiring hall in Burbank would benefit laborers, employers, the city and Home Depot.

"If Home Depot doesn't do this, they know they are going to have men in front of their business," Alvarado said. "It's unfortunate that sometimes they need to be forced to do it."

The 1,500-square-foot hiring center at 1190 S. Flower St. has an office, a storage room and a bathroom. It will be open daily from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and jobs will be distributed through a lottery system.

Alvord said she anticipates that the city will be a target for protests. But despite the controversy, she said bringing the home improvement store to the community will be worth it.

"We are not going to let that tarnish welcoming Home Depot to Burbank," she said.

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