By John Geluardi
Daily Planet staff
The City Council has requested a report suggesting possible solutions to business owners’ complaints about the growing number of day laborers who gather looking for work in west Berkeley.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to have the city manager prepare the report, which will analyze the situation and propose possible solutions based on successful programs in other Californian cities. The council specified that the proposed solutions should address both the needs of business owners and day laborers.
One business, Truitt and White Lumber Company, has complained to the mayor’s office that the labors are too aggressive in soliciting work from the contractors and homeowners who shop at the building supply store.
Mayor Shirley Dean and other councilmembers have expressed concern that there are no accommodations such as a shelter or bathrooms for the workers who sometimes wait for hours in the area.
According to the recommendation submitted by Mayor Shirley Dean, the numbers of day laborers has grown in recent months. Dean’s report estimates there are as many as 150 laborers at any given time in the vicinity of Hearst Avenue near Fourth Street. There are a number of upscale businesses near the area.
The recommendation was first put on the council’s agenda on June 19 but was pulled by Councilmember Kriss Worthington who said he was concerned possible actions might be unfair to the laborers because the mayor’s recommendation was initiated by complaining businesses.
Dean withdrew her original recommendation and resubmitted another clarifying her expectations that the laborers’ needs be taken into consideration.
“In undertaking this request, the manager is specifically asked to meet with the day laborers, affected businesses, social agencies and to gather information from other cities with the same problem regarding what has worked and what has not worked,” the recommendation read.
Despite Dean’s clarifications, Worthington asked the recommendation be further amended during Tuesday’s council meeting prior to approving the item.
“I would like to add a section that makes it clear the City Council is in no way sending a message that we want a crackdown of any kind on day laborers. And also that the study be culturally sensitive and works with day laborers to empower them and improve their position in the community,” he said.
Dean agreed to add the language to the amendment but quipped, “That’s exactly what’s in there anyway.”
Dean said many cities have had to deal with the issue of day laborers and some have been more successful than others. She said San Rafael had as many as 300 laborers gathering at an intersection in the city’s Canal District.
“San Rafael opened up a hiring hall that didn’t work so well because the laborers had little or no hand in organizing themselves,” she said.
She added that the city of Concord instituted a successful program. Concord, she said, provided shelter for the laborers and they were able to organize their own hiring system, which outlined hiring order according to the types of jobs came available. She said if the laborers are able to organize themselves, they are more confident in the fairness of the system and thereby be more likely to participate in the program.