Monday, October 31, 2011

Southside Workers Center

Tuesday morning we got up early and headed to the Southside Workers Center, a ministry of the Southside Presbyterian Church, which was the first church in the country to declare itself a "sanctuary site" during the Central American civil wars of the 1980's .  There we met with a couple of volunteers, Raul and Melanie, but mostly we talked with the day laborers who meet there every weekday from 6am-9:30am.

The Center started in 2006, providing a safe space and a place for day laborers to meet and organize.  Each morning right, when the Center opens, all the workers gather and put their name in a lottery.  The names are drawn and written down in order, and when an employer arrives, the first workers on the list are the first to go, and in this way, the workers aren't competing or fighting with one another to get the job.  After talking to day laborers in San Diego about competition between workers, this was a really interesting strategy.  Unfortunately, like we heard in San Diego, the demand for work has drastically decreased and the workers may only get 1-2 days work per week, so after the lottery, most the workers know that only the first 7-10 people on the list may get work that day.

The Workers Center provides a lot of other support and perks to the workers.  When an employer arrives, folks from the Center write down their name, phone number and license plates so that if they mistreat or do not pay the workers, the Center can follow up with them.  The Center also demands that employers pay not only the minimum wage, but a little above--$8.00 per hour, but the workers said they are often paid $10.00 per hour.  Also, the Center has a published phone number that people can call to hire a worker and they offer hot meals twice per week and know your rights presentations each week--educating the workers on labor laws, what to do if stopped by the police and what to do if detained.  All the workers in the Center also take up a monthly $5 collection to offer to their compañeros who have recently been detained.

The workers and the volunteers at the Center were extremely warm and welcoming.  We sat in a circle of about 10 workers and talked for over an hour, and they were very interested in our border trip and our blog.  Like Eric and I, they know that people in the U.S. need to be educated on the positive role immigrants have in our communities so we can change the way they are seen and treated.

Raul, Melianie and Mark fighting the good fight.

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