LA City Council, Day Laborers and Home Depots, Oh My!

Check out this bit from the LA Times:

“The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Wednesday requiring certain home improvement stores to develop plans for dealing with day laborers who congregate nearby in search of jobs.”

Awesome! It’s about time someone did something about these solicitors. I hate going to the store to buy a can of paint or a drill bit and getting chased and hounded by 30 different dudes asking if I need help. Finally I can shop in peace! Now if they can do something about the people asking for signatures and donations outside of grocery stores… oh, um… wait…

“The ordinance mandates that proposed big-box stores obtain conditional-use permits, which could then require them to build day-labor centers with shelter, drinking water, bathrooms and trash cans.”

Oh. That’s not what I thought at all. Wait a second why is this Home Depots problem? If the city thinks this is a problem, how about they help someone to open a business where if a customer wants help they can go there and employ the services of workers rather than saying “sure, harassing customers of this other business is perfectly OK, in fact it’s encouraged!”

Seriously though, it’s awesome that the city is looking out for these folks who don’t have steady reliable jobs and sticking it to big businesses like Home Depot to make them help these dudes out. I look forward to follow up legislation requiring movie studios and record companies to build similar shelters for out of work actors and musicians so they can hang around outside the offices and pitch themselves to everyone walking in and out in comfort. Maybe we can take this a step further and actually start force the companies to pay the unemployed folks a salary.

29 thoughts on “LA City Council, Day Laborers and Home Depots, Oh My!”

  1. AWESOME, now I know where to go pee when I’m driving on San Fernando and just can’t make it back home in time to avoid an accident.

    Thanks Los Angeles City Council!

  2. The concept of a “Labor Center” isn’t new. Monrovia partnered with Home Depot to build one adjacent to the new Home Depot store in ’97. It certaily made it easier for find day labor for those inclined to use that service. It also cleared out the lines of people that used to line up next to the HD store as well as other areas in town.

    I do have a problem with city requiring a business to do it as part of their CUP. Certainly so many of these projects are also redevelopment projects it makes sense to contribute some of the public money into that.
    Serves the community in many ways beyond just the day laborers convenience.

    Of course if they have to stick a business with it, Home Crepot deserves it as they pretty much suck money out of a community and give nothing in return other than sales tax revenue.

  3. You come off as quite a jerk in this article. Have you seriously been “hounded” and “harassed” by day laborers while leaving Home Depot? In my experience it hasn’t been much more than a “need help?” which is pretty easy to say “no thanks,” to. Try to have a little compassion here, and I’m really sorry that they make you uncomfortable while you’re out buying some nails or a hammer or whatever, but it must be pretty uncomfortable for them to have to resort to day laboring to make ends meet. Eh?

  4. @timmyturtle

    First off, I am a jerk so it’s not just “coming off as one” in this article and yes, I have been harassed and hounded. I used to be in a situation where I had to paint a few rooms every month so I was regularly buying a gallon or two and i couldn’t walk out of the store without several of the guys walking with me to my car, every time, trying to get me to hire them to do the painting. When I explained that I was doing it myself they didn’t let up and said they could do it better and quicker than me and on and on. It’s not uncomfortable, it’s annoying as hell. Lots of people don’t have jobs, lots of people have to find ways to make ends meet, I don’t understand why creating a system where one group of people can bother another group is a good idea, seems like building a system where people without jobs could turn their skills into steady work would be more worth the effort.

  5. I think it’s a bigger waste of time to put legislation or ordinances into place so poor little Sean-y doesn’t get annoyed in the Home Depot parking lot than it is to give some poor day laborers an awning, portable toilet, and water so they don’t die of heat stroke in a parking lot.

  6. You are right Timmy, I forgot that they are required to stand their until they die and have no choice in the matter. But regardless, you make a wonderful point, much better to create something that fosters begging than to create something that eliminates the need for it.

  7. Can I make a new rule that everyone has to call me that all the time now? I think it has a ring to it and I can probably use the sympathy angle to my benefit.

  8. I gotta agree with Sean here. We should all be compassionate, but the issue is, who pays for the compassion? If you’re a Democrat, the answer is usually “the governmnent,” i.e., the taxpayers, whether local, state, or federal, because we’re all in this together, it’s a collective problem requiring a collective solution, etc. If you’re a Republican, the answer is usually “no one; if you’re poor, it’s your own fault and your own problem.” Or maybe, “let churches and the private sector take care of it voluntarily.” Or my favorite, “the market will take care of it.”

    But whatever one’s philosophy, I don’t see any rationale for requiring Home Depot or other big box stores, no matter how evil or greedy, to take care of immigrants’ and/or day laborers’ economic problems on the basis that the laborers congregate outside these stores. Sean’s movie studio analogy is damned apt.

  9. I’m with Sean. I remember feeling harassed when my mom and I used to go to a Home Depot in city of Industry and all these men would follow us, asking to do work for us. I think I was 11 or 12.

  10. I also agree with Sean here. We should create a system that eliminates the need for begging, but what are the chances of that happening? I certainly don’t have any good ideas for how to accomplish it. Do you?

    I don’t disagree with Matt either. Why should Home Depot have to pay for the shelter? They shouldn’t, you’re right. They probably can’t afford it anyway.

    I just naturally take offense at the “woe is me” tone of Sean’s post, and it’s really hard for me to side with a mega-corporation like Home Depot over some poor dude looking for work who probably has to eat dirt for dinner every other night.

  11. Oh, and if the stores are forced to incur extra expenses, they’ll have to pass the cost on to the consumers to the fullest extent possible. So the people affected by the problem would have to pay to solve it, while the City Council in effect gets to tax people indirectly by making corporations do the “taxing” and thus not taking the heat or the responsibility for its own actions. How’s that for a neat solution to a genuine problem?

  12. Timmy – yeah, actually I do, I wrote it in the original post, did you read it or did you just read the first line and then start complaining?

    If the city is going to step in and force someone to do something about this I’m suggesting their efforts would be better spent forcing someone to open their own company that is in the business of lining people who want work up with people who need workers. Many other industries already have these “temp agencies” so there’s no reason it wouldn’t work for people who wield paintbrushes and hammers. Help the people help themselves rather than just making the hole they are sitting in a little less uncomfortable.

    And that “eating dirt” thing is stupid. No one here HAS to do anything. We all make choices knowing full well the consequences of those choices. I know tons of “Actors” who rarely get to “act” and instead end up waiting tables. I know tons of Artists who live in super crappy parts of town because the rent is cheap and they don’t make enough on their art to live anywhere else. The city shouldn’t be requiring a business to make amends for someones individual poor choices – and yes, if you are doing something every day where you are standing in the sun and dying of heat stroke or eating dirt for dinner ever other night it’s probably safe to say you are making some poor choices in there somewhere.

  13. Eating dirt was a joke. I guess that wasn’t obvious enough.

    I read your entire original post and I didn’t see any valid solutions there, just snark and poor analogies. You think these people are making enough money doing day labor to pay a temp agency from their salary? You think the people hiring these laborers will pay them more money to cover the cost of the agency? You’re dreaming.

    These people are not necessarily out there due to poor choices. How do you not understand that? Some of those guys have no other skills, and for some of them this crappy day laboring and sweltering in a parking lot is actually better than the alternatives, or what they’ve resorted to in the past.

    Look, if it comes down to Home Depot passing the costs incurred down to the customers I’m okay with that. If my paint or nails cost a few cents more, is that really a big deal? If you really argue that you can’t afford a few cents here and there on your hardware to make these guys a little more comfortable, then, well, you’re kind of an asshole.

  14. i really don’t think you can compare a struggling artist who lives in a crappy apartment with an immigrant trying to make money through hard labor.

    don’t you think that the people looking for work outside of home depot are in that situation for reasons more than “making poor choices”? it’s not like they woke up one day and decided that they were going to beg for work. how about that it’s probably harder for a latino immigrant to get a job as a waiter in a nice restaurant or an office temp job (like i’m sure many of your actor friends do) based on the color of their skin and preconceived notions about their race/background? maybe the easiest way for them to make money is to get work from people who hire them outside these stores.

    if it bothers you so much, then park on the roof of the home depot, and take the elevator down to the entrance.

  15. There are two issues here you keep lumping together. The first, which this post is about, is if the city should be sticking a handful of businesses with the bill for their solution to this issue. I don’t think they should. That’s why I made the post, because I think it’s stupid.

    The second, which you keep trying to drag into this, about the validity of day laborers in general or who has it worse or what skills people have is a much bigger issue and it’s dumb to try and debate it in the comments like this. You might not think it’s a fair comparison to look at artists, musicians, day laborers etc with the same lens but I do.

    At one point none of these people had any skills, they all made the choice which skills to learn and which skills to depend on for their income. And in most cases those skills – panting a wall or a canvas, building a counter top or a sculpture, swinging an axe or an rock-axe, don’t pay the bills very well. There are obvious exceptions to all of them, but someone deciding they are going to spend their day doing something that may or may not bring in any money is not a better or worse choice because of that persons skin color or national origin. The difference is that when some people are faced with their skillset not paying the bills they learn another (actors who take up waiting tables for instance).

    If you want to stick with the construction world I know people first had who used to paint walls and hang drywall daily but because it wasn’t paying their bills they teamed up with other people and opened a business to pool their skills and they can then charge more. I know guys who used to install phone lines with signs on street posts who, because that wasn’t paying their bills, studied and got their contractors license and not get paid a ton more for the same work.

    There are always options, if someone chooses to stand in the sun all day to the point where they have a heat stroke and die because they are hoping a job will magically land in their lap, I’d say that is a poor choice. If someone chooses to stay home and paint instead of getting a job and hope that magically someone will come buy their paintings, but then starves because they dont, I’d say that was a poor choice. That’s my opinion, you don’t agree, fine, I’m not saying you have to. But no opinion about that plays into if the city should require Home Depot to build facilities for day laborers or not.

  16. Personally I’ve been calling you “Sean Bonnery” for some time now… mostly too myself and in a reeeeaaaallly bad Sean Connery accent. There, secret’s out. That’s a load off.

  17. Seems to me that Home Depot benefits from the day laborers being there and Home Depot is the reason day laborers are there. So why shouldn’t Home Depot deal with the situation?

    Is it that uncommon for cities to ask businesses to mitigate effects of conducting their business? Wouldn’t a bar without a smoking porch get harassed by the city if the patrons were clogging the sidewalk?

  18. Semi-related: There was a compelling column by Steve Lopez in the Times this past weekend about an out-of-work construction worker forced to compete among the itinerant laborers outside a Home Depot in Orange County. He got injured as a result of the quake a couple weeks ago while on a $10/hour roofing job and instead of the guy who hired him taking him to the hospital he dumped him back at Home Depot and split.

  19. Today, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved an ordinance requiring certain celebrities to develop plans for dealing with paparazzi who congregate nearby in search of photo-ops.

    In other news, 5 South L.A. residents were overcome by carbo-shock after consuming super-sized Jumbo Jack combo meals.

    Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry said in a statement, “We are shocked and stunned by this flagrant disregard for public health. Jack-In-The-Box should know better than to serve poor, fat, black people hamburgers, shakes and fries. I and my fellow city council members plan to take immediate legal action against Mr. Jack.”

    As per usual, Mayor ‘Where In The World Is” Villaraigosa was unavailable for comment.

    Faithfully Submitted,

    Douglas C. Neidermeyer
    Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

  20. The Home Depot on north Figueroa at San Fernando road had a center for day laborers for some time. I stopped going to that store (as a single woman I am 1) capable of doing things myself and 2) don’t like strange men approaching me) so I don’t know if it’s still there. I don’t know who was responsible for the construction or maintenance of the center, probably a local church or community group.
    It seems like it was a good idea in principal, but someone who works in the construction industry pointed out that the establishment of a center can give the false impression that the workers available there are trustworthy and reliable. He had tried using casual labor from there but found some problems recurring. Some workers would back solicit the work from the customer, quoting a lower price. Some tools turned up missing…small items, but regularly. One homeowner told him not to bring casual laborers because he had been ripped off by them. Another said he didn’t want the casual laborers on his property because he was afraid they were there to ‘case’ the place, to come back later to break in and take things.
    The person I know started becoming paranoid about the customer’s security (and his own) so he stopped going to the center completely. He found out about the back soliciting because the owners would have to call him to come back to fix the work that the ‘cheaper’ workers had done.

    If the store owner is responsible for making a place for the casual laborers to find work, do they then have to carry more public liability insurance to protect them against lawsuits from damage from casual laborers, since the store is facilitating the workers access to the homeowner? If someone is injured (on the store property) by one of the casual laborers, is the store responsible?
    I think the problem (people needing work) is too big for band-aid fixes by the local government. Cosmetic fixes like this proposed measure create more problems than they will solve and who will administer the program and where will the money come for it?
    While we as shoppers are granted access to the ‘public’ area outside the store (parking lot) it is still private property. How is requiring a company to provide a facility on THEIR private property with involing eminent domain laws legal? Are they going to compensate the store for this appropriation? I am no expert on the law, but it seems to me that the store ‘gives’ us access to their property so we can visit the store and perhaps buy something: a business relationship. To that end, they are to provide a safe, accessible environment for us. No such business relationship exists between the store and the casual laborer. Is the city/county going to create an artificial relationship? Is that legal?

    On the subject of solicitors outside grocery stores, etc. If they’re kids selling candy, I just say no. If they’re from what appears to be a church or other organization, I ask to see their permit (City of LA requires a permit for solicitors). If they don’t have one, I loudly inform them that they are breaking the law (if it is a church org. I remind them of ‘rendering unto Caesar’) and tell them to get a permit. I will also stand there (if I have time, and feel they were pressuring me to begin with) and ask them where they are based, who actually benefits, are they really members or are they hired only to solicit…(etc). I know I am making a dmned fool of myself, but I’m willing to do it to show people that the solicitors are not what they portray themselves to be. I try to avoid stores that allow the solicitors to use their parking lots…the store managers have a right to ask them to leave (again, private property) but for the most part, if the solicitors are already there, then the store manager has already caved in, and won’t make them leave, even when I ask him (her) to do so. Again, I’m willing to be a btch when people are breaking the law AND pssing me off. On the other hand, there are lots of charities I routinely support—privately.

  21. Will.I.Am – you are hereby required to give us your Sean Connery impersonation (and of course, you must include the words “Sean Bonner”) at the next blogger meetup.

    Interestingly, this issue got a full vetting in Herndon, Virginia over the past several years. If I have my facts right, many day laborers were gathering outside the town’s central 7-11. People complained about the loitering, etc. The town decided to build a “day laborer center” for the workers to gather and, hopefully, hook up with employers. The center was paid for with town funds (i.e., the taxpayers), but administrated by a nonprofit group.

    Unfortunately, the Minutemen and other anti-immigration groups opposed the setup on the grounds that, according to these groups, most of the workers were illegal immigrants. The issue went to court. The court ruled that the town had to provide the laborer center and its services to everyone who showed up, even illegal immigrants. Apparently, the town wasn’t gung ho about that, so it simply shut down the whole thing. Presumably, the workers are back to “loitering” at the 7-11.

    I’m not sure what lesson was learned, but to me it validates the point that the gathering of these day laborers reveals much larger social and economic issues (immigration, employment, social services, etc.). These issues must be dealt with in a responsible way. Different people have different philosophies about how to deal with them. That’s where our political system comes into play. We elect our local, state, and federal government representatives to help deal with such issues. Private parties and other organizations sometimes want to get involved too, for profit reasons or otherwise. But when a City Council forces the gathering place for these laborers to bear the full burden of assisting them, to me that represents the weakest possible reasoning and the most cowardly possible way of addressing the issue.

  22. Sean Bonnery! I love that.

    Anyway, when I was covering Glendale this was a major issue. Glendale’s day labor center was established because of 1) neighbor complaints that day laborers would litter and defecate all over their properties and 2) the public safety issue of guys chasing after trucks either in the parking lots or streets. The day labor center there is (or was, its been a few years since I followed the issue) established as a partnership between Home Depot, Catholic charities and the city of Glendale. It seemed to be a success, except for the facts that there are day laborers who are still scared to register (which is a requirement) with the center for fear of being deported and some of them just can’t afford the fee (I forge the details) required to be listed with the center.

  23. I think Matt is mis-stating the Minute Men position. They are asking for immigration reform and asking that steps be taken to eliminate illegal immigration. To characterize them as anti-immigration is incorrect, the correct would be anti-illegal immigration. Semantics but an important difference.

    Although I can’t condone their methods I at least understand what they are asking. I have met with a few and talked with them at length so I have an understanding of what they are trying to do. (I do meet some interesting folks in my meanders).

    I think Monrovia’s partnership was based on what Glendale and others were doing. Ours so far has worked for the community.

  24. Frazgo, you’re right. I wrote the comment very quickly, and did not intend to mischaracterize the Minute Men. As I indicated in the comment, the issue in Herndon was definitely illegal immigration, not legal immigration.

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