Day laborers gather to focus on unity

The Associated Press
Tuesday July 31, 2001

For a year and a half now, Jonas Marcos has known the life of a day laborer. 

Marcos, 35, came to the United States from Mexico in hopes of saving up money for a family he has not seen since leaving home. 

Before coming to the United States, Marcos thought that work was plentiful and he would have few obstacles. 

“I thought it would be easier,” Marcos said. “The truth is that it is very difficult to survive in this country.” 

The day laborer, or “jornalero” in Spanish, has had to worry about finding work along with making sure that he is paid by employers. 

In an expression of unity, Marcos, about 100 other day laborers and representatives of immigrant organizations gathered at California State University, Northridge over the weekend in an attempt to empower jornaleros. 

“The next step that we are going to take involves the consolidation of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network,” said coordinator Douglas Carranza on Sunday. 

Organizers discussed how the National Day Laborers Organizing Network will serve as the umbrella for the 18 organizations from New York to Los Angeles that gathered at the three-day meeting. Topics at the conference that concluded Sunday included a variety of day laborer concerns, such as the improvement of working conditions, the status of U.S. immigration policies and how to improve the perception of day laborers in the communities in which they work. 

“We’re sending out a message to the entire Latino community,” said Luis Manuel Pizana of the Portland, Ore.-based day laborers organization VOZ, which is Spanish for “voice.” 

The group wants day laborers to know that they have support no matter where in the country they may end up looking for work, Pizana said. 

In an expression of their unity Friday, about 40 day laborers met in suburban Agoura Hills to chant “Si se puede” at an intersection where employers often drive by and offer work. The National Day Laborer Organizing Network said local police often harass workers at the intersection. 

Several of the groups at the meeting are lobbying for the creation of a national day laborer union to set wage standards and provide health care for the estimated 2 million day laborers in the United States. 

The system is vulnerable to abuses since day laborers often serve at the whim of employers, who can refuse to pay if they claim the laborer didn’t meet the proper standards. 

Workers also don’t have health insurance, Social Security or disability benefits. 

The agenda for the weekend focused on developing a national organizing strategy to benefit the workers. 

“Every struggle advances little by little,” said Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.