How to improve day laborer conditions in Orange County

The work conditions that day laborers experience are an ongoing issue in Orange County. Through the work of Orange County Justice United, I have learned that day laborers in Orange County are often both Latino and African American, contrary to popular thought that all are illegal immigrants. Some of the Latino day laborers are here legally, but are unable to find work in the formal economy. Many of our day laborers face challenges including wage theft and unsafe work conditions where they may be injured, but do not have insurance to cover treatment, and run the risk of being robbed of their pay, often given in cash.

Justice United held an Assembly on December 9, 2010, in part to discuss this issue. At that time, we received pledges from the Mayors of both Carrboro and Chapel Hill, as well as leaders from the Chapel Hill–Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and the Orange County Branch of Durham Tech, to join us on a taskforce to determine how to address the poor work conditions of daylaborers in our community.

We held the first taskforce on day laborer conditions this past Wednesday (March 9, 2011). The leaders above made good on their pledges and attended. Also in attendance were members of Justice United’s Fair Jobs & Wages and Immigrant Families Teams, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, three UNC law students who work with the UNC Law School Clinic that deals with issues of civil rights and immigration, and two representatives of the Human Rights Center at Abbey Court in Carrboro.

We talked about the idea of creating a Worker Center to potentially be held at the new El Centro Hispano site at Carrboro Plaza. This would make sense because many of those in the informal labor market are already accessing services there, El Centro has space, and they have non-profit status to apply for funding.

There are barriers to a worker center. Some workers want to stay at the Jones Ferry corner site. Others worry that employers will not find them if the site is moved. Another issue is whether the Carrboro Plaza management would welcome such a use on site.

Of course, a worker center is more of a long-term solution. We also discussed short-term fixes including holding a meeting between the Carrboro and Chapel Hill Police Departments and day laborers and their representatives to discuss how to ameliorate their sense of persecution by the police who patrol the Jones Ferry corner ostensibly to enforce theloitering ordinance. The potential for locating a portable toilet on thatcorner will also be explored.

We anticipate that there will be opposition to any plans. Those living near the corner site have voiced displeasure with these workers being on the site.

What other issues do we need to be aware of? Research?

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