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Day laborer numbers on the rise in west Berkeley

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Monday June 18, 2001

The mayor will propose at Tuesday’s City Council meeting that the city manager examine ways to address problems created by the growing number of day laborers who gather on Hearst Avenue in west Berkeley hoping to find work.  

According to Mayor Shirley Dean’s written recommendation, the number of day laborers is growing and there are currently no accommodations for them such as bathrooms or shelters. The mayor’s executive assistant, Tamlyn Bright, said the mayor’s office has also received numerous complaints from Truitt and White Lumber Company about day laborers harassing customers in their eagerness to find work. 

The recommendation estimates there are as many as 150 people gathering on Hearst Avenue between Sixth Street and Frontage Road at any given time of the day. 

The recommendation also suggests that meetings be planned between the day laborers, many of whom are undocumented, and affected businesses to determine solutions. 

According to Lynn Svenson, an organizer for the Day Labor Institute, an organization that helps workers organize themselves, the number of day laborers is growing in California, Texas and a growing number of states on the East Coast.  

Svenson has been instrumental in assisting day laborers develop systems that allow them to charge minimum hourly rates depending on the nature of the work in cities such as Van Nuys, Glendale and Concord.  

The city of Glendale placed a 1,700-square-foot trailer, complete with computers and a drive-through area for perspective employers, near a Home Depot. Glendale laborers pay $1 per day and organize themselves, which increases their interest in participating, according to Svenson. 

“Our approach is to work with the laborers to find out what works best for them and then have them make the rules,” Svenson said. “People are more likely to follow the rules when they’re the ones who are making them.” 

Councilmember Linda Maio, who represents district 7 where the laborers look for work, said she likes the idea of providing some kind of shelter for the laborers.  

“I see those guys standing there in the blazing sun or pouring rain,” she said. “Something needs to be done.” 

Berkeley Police Lt. Russell Lopes said there have consistently been complaints about the day laborers for the last few years. 

Lopes said the majority of the complaints are not of a serious nature and that the laborers have been cooperative with the regular beat patrolman in the area. 

“The complaints are never of a criminal nature,” he said. “These guys don’t want to create problems, they just want to find work.”