Preston Dagons Jr., 45, picks up trash along North Figueroa Street in Highland… (Francine Orr/Los Angeles…)
Armed with a broom, rake and paper-picker, Preston Dagons Jr. spent most of Monday combating trash along a busy commercial thoroughfare in Highland Park — part of his daily endeavor to keep the street clean.
On a day that many Southland workers chose to relax, attend rallies or eat at backyard barbecues, Dagons chose to do something he said he has come to love: Labor.
"I appreciate the Labor Day opportunity to take the day off," said Dagons, 45, of Los Angeles. "But I need to take advantage of every opportunity that is presented to me to make a living."
The unemployment rate in Los Angeles County stands at 12.4% and 1 in 4 workers is jobless or underemployed, according to statistics from the state's Employment Development Department and local workers advocacy groups.
This makes Dagons, a parolee, particularly thankful.
"I'm grateful and I'm humble," he said as he briefly found some shade under a tree in the 5200 block of North Figueroa Street in the Highland Park historic district. Wearing a fluorescent orange safety vest and surgical gloves on top of woolen gloves to cushion his hands, Dagons quickly returned to clearing fallen leaves and ridding the curbs of plastic bottles, foam cups and candy wrappers that he tossed into a trash can on wheels.
The courteous Las Vegas native with an engaging smile got his job thanks to Chrysalis Enterprises, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit group that according to its website helps individuals such as the homeless, low-income workers and ex-felons gain self-sufficiency.
Oscar Enriquez, Dagons' supervisor, who on Monday rode in a truck monitoring Dagons and another worker, said merchants along a 10-block stretch of Figueroa pay for the street cleaning service six days a week.
Dagons earns California's minimum wage of $8 an hour for the maximum 23 hours the company allows him to work each week.
"They don't want you too get too comfortable," Dagons said. "They want you to learn work ethics, get in the habit of getting up for work every day … and search for a full-time job on your days off."
He supplements his wages by working 16 hours at a security company for $13.50 an hour.
Dagons said he was trying to set an example for other parolees, whom he counsels on a voluntary basis. He said he completed an associate degree while incarcerated for 20 years for his role in a kidnap-for-ransom crime. Now he is hoping to get qualified as an addiction specialist.
In this harsh economic climate, ex-offenders are finding it especially tough to get a job, Dagons said. But that was no reason to give up trying, he added.
"There's a lot of 'woe is me,' " Dagons said. "I try to give them some kind of incentive."
On Labor Day, that motivation was reflected in his decision to work for no extra pay, and not because he had to, but because he wanted to.
"I don't have time to idle," Dagons said. "Every day is an opportunity."