When you’re a day laborer standing near the corner of Monroe and North Wendover, waiting for work at 6 a.m., long-term thinking is not your highest priority. You have two goals: that your gig lasts for more than a day, and that you actually get paid.
The Latin American Coalition hopes the first center for day laborers in Charlotte will provide the resources, processes, and dignity to lengthen the time horizon for that thought process. Personal, professional, and family development takes longer than a single day.
Planning and creating the center, for example, took eight years. The new center opened May 1 at St. John’s Methodist Church on Monroe Road.
“When your main goal is working every day, a lot of times you tend to put things like your health or education on the back burner,” said Isael Mejia, manager of the center. “What we want to do is create access to resources. We’ve fought to be as close as we could to the corner, so they wouldn’t have to go far. This reminds me a lot of my roots because I come from a family that’s always about working. But working meant we missed a lot of really important events personally and professionally because we couldn’t take a day off.
“The easier we can make it on them to have access to information or technology, the better.”
The resource center, tucked to the side of the Methodist church, is a short walk away from Charlotte’s traditional meeting place for day laborers. That location has evolved through several spots, but always near the corner of Monroe and North Wendover.
LAC leadership describes three goals for the new center: advocating for fair pay and treatment for day laborers, building community, and providing educational, development, and family resources. They point to the work of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, to increasing numbers of similar centers throughout the United States, and to the Pasadena Community Job Center in California, which provided help as the Charlotte project got rolling.
The Pasadena center cites statistics from a U.S. study on day labor, led by Dr. Abel Valenzuela Jr., a professor at UCLA: in 2006, about 118,000 workers were looking for day labor on any given day. Eighty-three percent of workers relied solely on day-labor work. Seventy percent searched for work five days or more each week. Almost two-thirds had children to support. More than half of all day laborers attended church regularly, and a quarter participated in community worker centers.
“Eventually we hope to have technology classes,” Mejia said. “A lot of the folks out there are entrepreneurs, and technology is vital to being able to have a successful business. Previously at the coalition we organized small business classes and that’s what we’re doing here, too. We’re working with partners like the AARP, Fifth Third Bank, the Latin American Chamber of Commerce, and Sherwin-Williams to create certification programs, to offer education on budgeting and how to become bankable, to rely more on banks. That’s another way that we hope to be able to intervene.”
Alba Sanchez, manager for the LAC’s immigrant welcome center, said many immigrants are learning how to use a computer for the first time. Using a computer, writing emails, being able to type, creating a Word document are all basic skills, Sanchez said, that help immigrants increase employability and support their families. The LAC recently completed a Digital Charlotte “Accelerator” program designed to strengthen online skills, resulting in 17 community members earning certification and refurbished laptop computers. “We want to be able to connect these workers to that opportunity with information and technology services here, and to be able to use their phones better. We see that there’s a lot of need for parents to know how to communicate with their kids,” Sanchez said.
“One of our main intentions is to support the community and build in the relationship between the laborers and the contractors,” she said. “For the contractor to see the labor workers as human beings, and not as someone I can take advantage of. Someone who is going to do a good job for me, and I’m going to provide fair pay to him or her. It’s not only males. It’s also females. Building that community is our dream. We envision for them to be respected, to have a place in our community, because they are building our city.”