Tag Archives: Day Laborers

Steph- Worker’s Meeting in Library

5 Jul

Last week we had the meeting to which Grace, Connie, Alejandro, Carlos, and I had all been inviting the day laborers to come to, to talk about the new Centreville Labor Resource Center which will be opening this summer. In the beginning, the meeting started off a little slow. A christian, korean men’s group called 2-20 graciously donated pizza and soda to feed everyone at the meeting, and for awhile they were the only new people there! Carlos and I decided to wait outside of the library to invite workers to come as they came home from work. After a half an hour enough people had showed up that we decided to go in and start eating the pizza.

The first part of the meeting was dedicated to hearing from a legal aid group which helps workers get their salaries from employers who refuse to pay. Dan Choi and an intern named Eva told the workers about their rights. Chief among these were the right to a minimum wage and overtime. It seemed like everyone there appreciated the information and at least learned something about what their option were when their rights were being violated. As this presentation went on, several more workers showed up to the meeting, making the total attendance about 20-25 workers.

After that we were able to have Miki, Carlos, and Alejandro, three of the workers who have been involved since the beginning talk about the benefits of the center and why they were involved. The workers got a chance to ask questions and give their opinions. One important topic was to reassure the workers that the police were in favor of this center since it made their job easier, decreasing the amount of employers stopping on the street and obstructing traffic. The workers would benefit from having a safe place to wait where they could count on a more equitable distribution of work, the police would have less work to do in regards to maintaining the flow of traffic, and the community would also have a safe place to come and hire the workers they need. Win/win/win!

The last part of the meeting was a skit showing how the lottery would be performed. The workers were seemed excited to take part in the skit, and it led to excellent conversation regarding how the center would function when it was open. Ultimately there are still a few things to figure out, but I think this meeting really helped everyone to imagine how the center would work and got some more new day laborers excited about it opening this summer.

Grace — La Segunda Semana (Week 2)

20 Jun

Hello again!  This week has been very busy for Stephanie and me.  Neither of us have had the chance to really sit down and write a post until today.

This week we have been surveying the area where most of the men wait for employers to pick them up in order to approximate the average number of workers and employers who may utilize the Center when it opens.  On any given day there are about 65 workers seeking chambitas (odd jobs) and 25 employers who hire them.  By keeping track of these numbers we hope to equip the Center with adequate resources and volunteer/staff management.  While we are on the street we talk to the workers and encourage them to attend meetings to decide how the Center will be run.  This set-up process requires that the men partake in democratic decision making, which we hope empowers them with the necessary confidence to stipulate fair treatment from their employers (including fair wages and safe working conditions.)  The Center will also be equipped with bilingual volunteers and/or staff who can help match skill sets with employers to help ensure quality work for the community.

A question someone recently asked me was, “Since the Center doesn’t yet exist, how is your work changing society?  What are the tangible results?”  It’s a very good question.  At this point, everything we’re doing has to do with sustainability.  Without the community empowerment and organizing work we’re doing right now, the Center would not be BY the workers or FOR the workers.  Our role in talking to them on the streets every day is to give them the confidence and support they need to make important decisions about how the Center will be operated.  I think building trust between people is just as important as tangibles like “building a resource center” or “helping X number of workers get employed”.  For those of us motivated to do social justice work, sometimes it’s easy to overlook the importance of — or hard to truly accept — the critical importance of baby steps.  I have come to embrace “midwife” as the most adequate term to describe what Stephanie and I are doing here this summer, helping to bring the Centreville Labor Resource Center to life.  And an essential quality of a good midwife is communication.  We are currently acting as “connectors”, moving slowly and laying the proper ground work for the parturition.

Aside from surveying the street we’ve also been doing hardcore office work!  We’ve drawn up some sample advertising flyers which have been translated from English to Spanish and Korean.  Because a large segment of the Centreville population is ethnically Korean, we do not want to limit employment opportunities for the workers by only advertising the Center in English.  In addition to creating advertisements and similar materials, we’ve also been drafting important forms and documents for the Center.  These require a lot of careful thought and effort.  We want to make clear that the Center will simply be a safe place for employers and workers to meet, not a hiring agency.  The Center is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that abides by all US laws.

Today we had a great church service at Wellspring.  Each week is something new and different!  A wonderfully talented guest musician came and performed for us.  The music itself was a really moving experience — very soulful and uplifting.  I was really moved by the sermon, too.  The people at Wellspring identify themselves in various ways — old, young, black, white, Asian, Latino, Hispanic, indigenous, gay, straight, sexy, strong, extroverted, introverted, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, etc. etc. etc. — but at the heart of it all we share a human spirit, and we come to church because it uplifts that spirit; while we may have differing personal identities day-to-day we come to church and celebrate life with a collective identity as human beings.  Wellspring is the most open, welcoming, and humanly affirming place I have ever known.  I feel so lucky to be here this summer.  Now I look forward to church on Sundays — something I’ve never really looked forward to before in my life!

I will try to provide a more timely update this upcoming week.  It’ll be meetings, meetings, meetings for the next few days.

Someone said something very interesting to me this week. I’ll leave their quote here, roughly paraphrased —

There are thousands of stars in the sky, but that doesn’t make any one star unimportant.  If one star fades away, that makes the entire sky one star less bright, one star less beautiful. 

The light of every star counts.

Grace

Steph– Visit to Wheaton Worker’s Center

12 Jun

¡Hola!

I’d like to introduce myself, my name is Stephanie Gans and I am Grace’s fellow volunteer for Wellspring UCC and the Centreville Immigration Forum. I grew up in central New Jersey, but I have lived in Virginia for the past 3 1/2 years as a student at the College of William and Mary. I graduated from W&M this year with a degree in sociology. During my time at W&M I became fluent in Spanish by taking Hispanic Studies courses, interning with Student Action with Farm workers (SAF), and studying abroad in Argentina. I could not be more excited to be here in Centreville to support the immigrant and day laborer community, as well as the efforts of Wellspring UCC! After my summer here, I will be moving to Carrboro, North Carolina to take my place in a similar faith-based volunteer program, the Johnson Internship Program.

This week Grace and I got the chance to visit the Wheaton Welcome Center in Maryland. The Wheaton center is a place where day laborers can find work in an equitable and safe environment. They also provide ESOL classes, legal aid, and financial education workshops for their members. We got to the center right before they started their lottery. The workers would write their names on the sign-in sheet in the order that they came into the center. This would be the order in which they received their lottery number. The staff of the center took out a manual bingo ball machine and put in the necessary numbered bingo balls. First they did the lottery for the skilled workers. Since only 5 skilled workers came to the center that day, there were only 5 tiny bingo balls inside the spherical cage. A staff member called up each worker by name, in the order s/he had signed into the center. Each one cranked the machine’s handle until a ball fell out, and whatever number was on that ball, was the number they were placed on the list. Meanwhile, another staff member checked each worker’s membership card. The process was repeated for all of the regular workers, except there were 22 of them so it took a little longer.

After the lottery process we got another chance to ask the staff of the center questions, and to see how workers got hired. Some of the employers who came in seemed to barrel into the office, feeling empowered to grab whichever workers they wanted. Jacinta, one of the staff members we spoke to, would make sure to stop them and have them follow the procedure for hiring workers. Other employers would come in and wait patiently for Jacinta to help them hire someone. If the employer already knew who they wanted they would ask for that person by name. Jacinta told us how important it was for the staff to know how valuable different skills and jobs were, and what a decent wage was for each type of work. This knowledge enabled her to negotiate pay equitably with employers.

Fernando, another staff member of CASA de Maryland spoke to us about how important it was for each worker to take equal responsibility in helping the center run. Each month there was an obligatory meeting for the workers, in which they would discuss how the center was running and what they could do to make it better. They also needed volunteers to do things like leave advertisements for their work on doorknobs.

Ultimately, the visit to Wheaton was a great chance to see a worker’s center in action, and to learn about how one functions behind the scenes as well. For more information about the Wheaton Center and its parent organization CASA de Maryland visit this website: http://www.casademaryland.org/programs-mainmenu-73/workers-centers-mainmenu-78

Grace — La Primera Semana (Week One)

7 Jun

Hello Virginians!

My name is Grace and I am a UCC/Alliance of Baptists Summer Communities of Service volunteer for the Wellspring United Church of Christ in Centreville, Virginia.  Commitment to service and social justice shape and define my life. I am an Honors student at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania studying Geography.  After graduation I intend to pursue a career in community development.  In the past I have volunteered with Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi, Habitat for Humanity, served as a student liaison and advocate as Student Government President, Co-Chaired my college’s first annual Relay for Life, and taught children in two schools for disadvantaged children in Haryana, India.  All my friends share a commitment to service; with our small, dedicated team we set out to accomplish what we can.

I have left my family in Pennsylvania to work as a “midwife” for ten weeks, birthing the Centreville Labor Resource Center in order to meet a much-needed demand for an equitable system of labor distribution among day laborers as well as neighborhood peace.  I’ve come to Centreville with an eagerness to learn and to help.

Stephanie and I will update this blog regularly throughout the summer as the project progresses.  The Centreville Immigration Forum is a place where many differing viewpoints intersect in expression.  We hope this blog will be a voice of optimism, courage, hope and positivity.

It’s Tuesday afternoon and already my summer (I suppose it’s technically still spring, even though it’s really hot and doesn’t feel like spring AT ALL) is ten percent over.  Since Sunday morning Stephanie and I have worked 21 hours and been in and out of Washington DC twice.  We’ve definitely been busy!

On Sunday Stephanie and I went to the library and helped teach English to some of the workers.  Steph worked with the less advanced English speakers and I worked with the more advanced.  (Stephanie speaks fluent Spanish; I have a long way to go.)  There were two students in my group.  They were both better at spoken English than written, but they are both shy about their English and speak softly.  At the end of the lesson both thanked me profusely for helping them.  I was kind of surprised because I wasn’t sure how effective the lesson had been, particularly considering that my Spanish isn’t fluent and I had difficulty answering some of their questions.  Perhaps they do not feel entitled to assistance or attention in this country and are really grateful for the help they do receive.

On Monday, Stephanie, Alice (CIF President) and I went to the shopping center where many day laborers congregate and wait for someone to drive by and offer them a job.  During the time we were there I counted approximately 40 workers on the street; my estimate is that there are really at least 50 “on the corner” every day.  One of the goals of the Centreville Labor Resource Center is to get the men off the streets and provide them with a more equitable system for gaining employment — in many cases, employers simply drive up to the curb and the first man to touch the vehicle gets the job.  This probably scares off many potential employers who might hire a laborer for odd domestic or landscaping jobs — having ten or twenty men rush at your car, trying to open the doors and get in (all while speaking in a foreign language) can be intimidating.  For other workers who have prearrangements with employers, the CLRC will keep them out of the blazing heat (and frigid cold, come winter.)  We asked all the workers what they thought of the idea of a day laborers’ center.  About half seemed skeptical as to whether our plan would or even could come to fruition; the other half were open and supportive.

Today we went out on the street again with O., or “doña” as the workers call her.  She encourages the workers to improve their English skills so they can get better jobs.  In her big black bag she carries a variety of ESL materials she tailored specifically for the workers’ interests and needs.  We ended up speaking with a worker from Guatemala for more than an hour.  He talked about life in his home country and life in the United States.  He has lived here for about four years and does not know when or if he can go home.  He said he misses the shared spaces in his home country, such as plazas, parks, and markets.  He told us there is a song in Guatemala about a “cage of gold” which sort of sums up the distribution of space between people in America.  Americans have a lot of individual space but not many places designed specifically for people to commune and meet informally together.  As a geography student, I thought it was an interesting observation.

Last night Stephanie and I went to the Universalist National Memorial Church in Washington DC for their Interfaith Pride Week Service.  It was “fabulous”, to use a buzzword from the evening!  I rarely go to church services back home because I don’t have the patience to sit through a sermon on Sunday morning.  The IPWS was perfect because it never stopped moving — just as the LGBTQIA movement never stops pushing forward.  Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, and other religions came together to celebrate and affirm the place of the LGBTQIA community in all faith traditions.  The ceremony captivated every sense — the Catholics burned incense, live music was played throughout the entire evening, and everyone sang, chanted, shook each others’ hands, and offered words of support.  It was pretty much the penultimate worship experience.  I was glad to have had the opportunity to go.

Well, I think that covers everything for now.  We are also doing a lot of office and paperwork but the fruits of our labor are yet to ripen.  I am pleased with how smoothly everything has run so far and hope it continues to for the remainder of the summer.

Grace