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EDITED ARTICLE IN WORD FORMAT]
On a busy day, 250 job seekers visit the Worker Center in Mountain
View. Almost all are Spanish-speaking Latino men. They arrive each
morning at the small office just off El Camino Real, hoping to land
a day's work. The lucky -- those who are high enough on the Worker
Center's job list - mow lawns or pull poison oak and receive $8 to
$10 an hour. Having earned a day's wages, the fortunate are bumped
to the end of the list. Several days will pass before they have a
chance to work again.
Steady income is an uncertainty at the Worker Center, but the men
return day after day. Many lack the Social Security cards and paperwork
necessary for a steady job, and language barriers make interviews
difficult. These day laborers, dependent on the Center for survival,
will soon take to the streets. The Worker Center closes its doors
at the end of the month.
St. Vincent de Paul runs the day labor centers in both Mountain View
and San Jose. According to Steve Pehanich, executive director of St.
Vincent de Paul, trouble began last August. The Mountain View City
Council passed an ordinance banning street solicitation. Many day
laborers had been waiting on El Camino until potential employers pulled
over to the side of the road.
"It was chaos out there," Mountain View City Council Member
Sally Lieber said. "Workers were running in the road to get into
trucks. We had to have the police out there every day."
When street solicitation became illegal, workers needed a new way
to search for employment. Many turned to the Worker Center, conveniently
located just off El Camino, and the facility soon became overwhelmed.
"70 Seventy workers skyrocketed to 250 workers," Pehanich
said. "We were trying to limit the number of workers, but they
have no other place to go."
According to fire codes, only 35 people should occupy the 1200-foot
office space at the Worker Center. Day laborers were spilling out
of the doors, and neighboring tenants began complaining about the
sheer volume of them. While the Center only permits the 50 workers
on the top of the list to stay, many more come and go. Unlike the
San Jose facility, the Mountain View Center has no yard where workers
Due to overcrowding, landlord Louis Gundunas decided against renewing
the Worker Center's lease. The lease was to expire in June, but upon
hearing pleas from Worker Center staff, Gundunas agreed to extend
it until the end of October. Last week, Lieber asked Gundunas for
a second extension, but the landlord declined the request. Gundunas
did not return calls for comment. .
The Mountain View City Council has long realized that the Worker
Center is exceeding capacity. Council members have been investigating
alternative sites. They initially considered a proposal to move workers
into a fenced parking lot and allow employers to come pick out their
"I thought we could do something that had more dignity than corralling
people," Lieber said.
The council also proposed a building across from the St. Vincent
de Paul Thrift Store on centrally-located Old Middlefield Way, but
community meetings have drawn significant opposition. A dance studio
is across the street from the proposed site, and parents expressed
concerns that their daughters would be bothered by the men . "Unfortunately,
the community thinks we're unruly people," said Jose Cruz, a
day laborer and member of the Worker's Commission, which represents
all workers at city council meetings.
Lieber pointed out that workers wait for employment only through
late morning. Since dance classes don't begin until after school,
the girls are unlikely to come into contact with them/
Lack of community support isn't the only obstacle to a center on
Old Middlefield Way. The city requires a traffic and parking study,
for which the Worker Center has no funding, and rent is considerably
higher than the current site.
The Worker Center would like the City of Mountain View to subsidize
costs. Lieber is searching for a traffic analyst to conduct the study
pro bono, but doubts that the city will provide financial assistance.
"Some people think the city should not be involved financially
because many workers are here illegally," Lieber said.
Lieber says that without a Worker Center, the city will have to hire
police to monitor street solicitation.
"I feel like we're going to spend money on it one way or the
other," Lieber said.
As an alternative to the more expensive site on Old Middlefield Way,
the city council proposed using part of a garbage recycling plant
on Tera Bella. The Worker Center would need to spend money renovating
the facility and the lease would be month to month.
"We're being asked to fix the place up without any guarantee
that we'll have the place the next month," Pehanich said.
The site has no bus access and is distant from well traveled routes,
leading workers to oppose the idea.
"We don't want a site so far away," Cruz said. "We
don't feel the employers are going to go there."
The Worker Center staff objects to a garbage recycling plant on principle.
"Are they equating workers with garbage?" said staff member
Matthew Smith. "People are denied human dignity because they're
The Tera Bella and Old Middlefield Way sites are only two of 90 locations
examined by a task force composed of community members and representatives
from the Worker Center and Mountain View City Council. Most landlords
refused to rent to an organization for day laborers.
Community members who have been developing site proposals will appear
at the City Council this Tuesday. The Worker Center plans a 5 p.m.
marchfrom the Center to City Hall to draw attention to the day laborers'
Workers like Jose Cruz wonder how day laborers will survive without
"I'm not afraid, but I'm worried for the workers that will be
out in the street," Cruz said. "The Center is very important
for the people."