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Day labor sites at issue in immigration bill

L.A. officials fight an amendment that would ban localities from requiring home improvement stores to create hiring halls.

June 23, 2007|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

As the U.S. Senate prepares to resume debate on an immigration bill next week, Los Angeles city officials are lobbying in opposition to an amendment that would prohibit local and state governments from requiring home improvement stores to build day labor sites.

If the federal bill passes, the amendment would preempt a proposed ordinance in Los Angeles, where there are 11 business-funded day labor sites.

The day laborer situation is a land-use issue -- not an immigration issue -- and should be handled locally, city officials said.

"This is quintessentially a local decision," said Thomas Saenz, counsel to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "There is no reason for the federal government to intervene."

Los Angeles and other cities have worked with nonprofits and businesses to create hiring sites -- many with shelter and bathrooms -- to deal with the traffic problems generated by crowds of mostly immigrant men who gather outside some Home Depot stores to seek temporary work.

The city of Burbank went further, requiring Home Depot -- as a condition of opening a store -- to build a hiring center and contribute annually toward its operation. The center opened early last year in the store's parking lot.

The Los Angeles ordinance, which was proposed in 2004 and would mandate that all large home improvement stores construct hiring sites, has been on hold while Home Depot, city officials and day laborer advocates negotiate to come up with an alternative plan.

Home Depot spokesman Ron DeFeo said the company supports the congressional amendment, saying that the issue of day laborers is much broader than Home Depot and Los Angeles and that local cooperation works better than mandates.

"Some local governments believe that Home Depot can address this issue alone and mandate that we provide accommodations for day laborers," he said. "We just don't think that approach is sustainable."

But advocates for day laborers say Home Depot is not assuming responsibility for its role in the situation and instead is leveraging its corporate power and influence to get help in Washington.

Home Depot "is a major stakeholder," said Pablo Alvarado, head of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "They cannot deny that they are a magnet. They either help in addressing that ... or they work against it."

The network is one of several civic and labor groups opposing the amendment. Others include the AFL-CIO, the National Council of La Raza and the Service Employees International Union.

The amendment was proposed by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who says the requirement would be an intrusion by local government in running a private business. In addition, there is a liability issue, according to his press secretary, Sheridan Watson.

"Say something happens between a customer of the business and the day laborers," Watson said. "Who is liable? The companies would not be protected."

In a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) about the amendment, Villaraigosa addressed that issue:

"We understand some companies may have expressed a concern to you about their financial liability," the letter read.

"They might do well to consider their potential liability from injuries or accidents that could occur in their parking lots and driveways should a federal preemption leave it so workers would simply move in and around cars and customers to match up with those seeking their labor."

Saenz, of the mayor's office, said the amendment probably would face a constitutional challenge if it passed.

anna.gorman@latimes.com

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