Thursday, February 2, 2006
They’ve been there for years. Day laborers, standing at the corner of Fremont Boulevard and Echo Avenue in Seaside, in front of the 7-Eleven store. Mostly Spanish-speaking immigrants, most of them without working papers, waiting for short-term employment, which could mean laying cement, moving couches or clearing branches from someone’s property for a day or two.
But something is different now. The day laborers’ numbers are starting to swell, fast. In recent years, only about 20 day laborers would stand there on any given morning. Today, that figure can be upwards of 100 men, looking for work, who congregate at the mini-mall that houses about a dozen other small storefronts besides the 7-Eleven.
Their budding numbers is creating a dilemma for Dave Rothrock, property manager for the mini-mall lot. On the one hand, Rothrock supports the day laborers. He wants them to find work. And he doesn’t even mind so much that they do it there, on the property he manages.
On the other hand, he knows that something’s got to give. Not only are day laborers routinely cheated out of pay—as a recent study documented—but most lack health insurance and aren’t covered by worker’s compensation if they get badly hurt on the job.
And there’s another issue. “The problem is we have a lot of the guys doing business in two driveways,” Rothrock says. “We just don’t have the space.”
Rothrock says he’s receiving more complaints from people about the day laborers. While he’s willing to work with city officials to find a “win-win” situation, no one seems to know what to do, or even if anything needs to be done at all.
At a recent City Council meeting, Seaside Police Chief Anthony J. Sollecito responded to a woman who said she was having to go to a 7-Eleven in Monterey to get her morning coffee because the day laborers had verbally harassed her. (There are three 7-Eleven stores on Fremont Boulevard in Seaside.)
Sollecito told her that police cars regularly visit the site and have found no wrongdoing.
Seaside City Councilman Thomas Mancini said all the complaints he’s ever heard about the day laborers have turned out to be baseless accusations. At the same time, Mancini doesn’t know that anything specifically needs to be done about the increase of day laborers. “If the contractors wouldn’t pick them up, they wouldn’t be there,” Mancini says.
When asked if Seaside might consider doing what other cities have done—creating job sites where day workers and contractors can connect in a more controlled environment—Seaside Mayor Ralph Rubio said that might not work.
“What it boils down to is where the contractors are going to pick them up,” Rubio says. “If we move them all to another spot, and contractors don’t go there, we’ll be right back where we started. It’s a very touchy subject.”
Rubio admits that he’s not inclined to seek out a confrontation that would eventually be resolved in court. Immigration rights groups have sued other cities that have tried to move day laborers.
A confrontation is the last thing Rothrock wants, too. But he says he’d hate to see anti-immigrant groups confront day laborers as they’ve done in other cities.
“I would absolutely like to find a workable solution,” Rothrock says. “I sense that, from public comment, tensions are starting to mount.”
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