Day Laborer Groups Barely Pause to Celebrate Good News From Court

Representatives of day laborer organizations in the New York metro area attend the National Assembly in Los Angeles, organized by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (Photo from Workplace Project/Centro de Derechos Laborales)

In a victory for day laborers last month, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from a California city that had tried to prohibit laborers from soliciting work on sidewalks or parking lots, but was blocked by an appeals court, Colorlines reported.

The same week as that decision, Alexander Mondragón of La Tribuna Hispana was at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network’s VI National Assembly. Attendee Saúl Linares said the Supreme Court decision gave the movement a bit of breathing space, “for us to continue the great struggles that we still have to face.”

Linares was one of several representatives from the New York area at the Los Angeles convention, which took place on Feb. 19-23 and gathered some 300 laborers and advocates from 14 states.

One of the resolutions adopted by the convention, Linares said, “is how our communities will be prepared for the nationwide implementation of the Secure Communities Program, by means of which the Obama administration, in its three years in office, has deported over a million undocumented immigrants, using local police departments to detain the undocumented and report them to the ICE.”

“Although we have not yet heard the last word on this, it is estimated that by the end of 2013, this measure will have been implemented throughout the country, and that is why we must work in our communities to see how we will counteract it, and diminish the painful separation of mothers and fathers from their children,” added Linares, who is on the Board of Directors at the Workplace Project/Centro de Derechos Laborales (Workers’ Rights Center) in Hempstead, New York.

NDLON Executive Director Pablo Alvarado said the day laborer movement still faces plenty of challenges.

“We realize that the various different organizations that make up the Network have their own local struggles to wage,” Alvarado said. “Some with police harassment of day laborers, others confronting anti-immigrant laws like 287(g) [which allows local police to cooperate with federal immigration authorities], and other cases like New Orleans, where they opened the doors for reconstruction, but afterwards they threw the workers to immigration and they’ve been arresting them and deporting them as criminals, after having used them and often exploited them.”

In the New York area, “our main problem is that of unpaid wages, which we at the Centro de Derechos Laborales have seen increase with the economic crisis,” said Carlos Canales, a director at the CDL, who also attended the convention.

“The work has gone down, but the bosses’ welshing on pay has gone up,” added Canales.

At the convention, groups discussed workplace ethics, wage theft and the creation of telephone hotlines for labor complaints. There was even a visit from Hollywood:

The film “A Better Life” (“Una Vida Mejor”) was also shown at the convention. Director Chris Weitz was present, as was actor José Julián (who plays the part of Luis, the protagonist’s son). Actor Demián Bichir, who plays a day laborer in the film, was nominated at the Oscars this year for Best Actor.

During the Oscar ceremony, presenter Natalie Portman, herself the winner of the best actress award in 2011, said that one of the things Bichir succeeded in doing was to show the world the drama of day laborers and their families, “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

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