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The focus of this case study was to observe the new Phoenix day labor site also named “Macehualli”. This name came from the Aztec language. This site opened on Saturday February first 2003. We visited this site on April 29th 2003 at approximately 8:15 a.m. until around 9:45 a.m. Our goal was to talk with the key people involved in the day labor project. We inquired about this programs working status. Is this program benefiting the people who come here looking for work? We choose this site because of the interest in immigration by the U.S. and how do these immigrants find work in the United States. Our goal is to find out how this pilot program is working, how it is run and has it been successful so far. This study relates to the theme of 0ur migration and culture class because it is all about how people from Mexico migrate to the U.S. and how difficult it can be finding work in the states.
The area that this day labor site is in was not what we expected. It is in the North Central area of Phoenix. When driving East on Bell road and turning South on 25th street you pass an area with chain linked fence. We were expecting a building with parking, offices with a lobby area for the workers to sit, indoor restrooms and air conditioning. To our surprise there were no buildings only picnic benches with green tarps above them. Portable outhouses were provided but no misting systems to keep the workers cool during the unbearable summer heat. There was no formal office, just a notebook and containers with lottery tickets in them for the workers to register in. A circular driveway served as a pick up area. Yet these men organized themselves with a system that was working and would find way to entertain themselves by playing the guitar and visiting among themselves. They provided coffee, water and snacks by way of donations that each worker would put into a container on a volunteer basis. Day labor hours are Monday thru Saturday from 5:00 a.m. until around 2:00 p.m. The busier months are April until around October with December and January being the slowest months. On average there are around 175 people looking for work here at the Day Labor Center.
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We were told by Hector and Lalo that this program was funded by the organizations, Friendly House, Chicano Por la Causa, Valle de Sol and Tonatierra all are non-profit organizations. They were given $20,000 to help start this pilot program for six months. The McDonalds that is across the street from the center donated $10,000 towards this project. (Article by Richardson, Tim, website listed). The donated money helps to pay for the electricity, rent, and the portable restrooms. If this project works they can then apply for further assistance to help keep the organization going. Lalo did say that the program was working at a 92% success rate. He also stated that out of the 28 states that are involved in day labor projects that Phoenix is the most successful one so far. This is one way America is impacted by the new arrival of immigrants, cheap labor. (Sassen, Why Migration 1992) As we sat and visited we noticed a steady flow of vehicles pulling into the area looking for workers.
A Phoenix police officer arrives and asked Lalo how many workers have been sent out, this is a way to track the success rate of the program for the city. I asked if this intimidated the people here to see police arrive but Hector said that it did not seem to prevent people from coming.
We asked to speak with someone who spoke English and was in a supervisory position. We were introduced to two gentlemen named Hector and Lalo. Hector is one of the first people to help organize this site which was started in February, 2003. Lalo is also involved in the organizing of this project. We were very impressed by the enthusiasm that these two men showed for this project. Both men were very informative and helpful in giving us the information we were seeking.
One of the issues we wanted to look at was money. As we have studied (Cooper, 1997) immigrant workers are paid low wages for difficult and often repetitive work. This day labor site utilizes men for strenuous, physical work that is usually outdoors in the heat. Hector told us that the workers are able to negotiate what dollar amount that they would accept, usually ranging from $7 to $9 an hour depending on the type of job. The workers are usually paid cash, this is proffered. If the employer is familiar with someone that he has hired before he can ask for him by name to come and work again.
This site helps the workers so that they are not taken advantage of. Lalo stated that before this project the day labor workers would stand on various streets and when a potential employer would pick them up (the employer) would promise them a certain amount of pay, but would not uphold this agreement at the end of the day. He also told us how sometimes the men would work all day and then the employer would ask them to work all week and he would pay them on Friday. The worker would work all week and then come Friday the employer would not show up to get them and they would not get paid for the weeks work. In the article by Charles Clark he stated that “Most Americans don’t see why we have immigration” and that they are getting on welfare, (Clark, The New Immigrant, 1997) yet this project shows that Americans need workers for lower wage labor jobs and that the immigrants want to work. The registration process helps to prevent this abuse. The employee is signed in when he gets into a vehicle and the license plate of the employer is then written down next to the name in order to match them together. This can help to track the employer if he tries to take advantage of the worker and also protects the employer incase the worker would also do something undesirable.
A particular area that caught our interest was a self made shrine area. It had a statue of Guadalupe surrounded by flowers and candles donated by the workers. It is an area that represents hope for the immigrants looking to improve their lives. This area is a statement of the Hispanic culture. Lalo expressed to us that this land was originally Mexico and that Mexicans were coming to America reclaiming their land. As in the article by Sorell, the mythical border that forced Mexicans to be non-residents and annexed by conquest unites rather than separates the two people. (Sorell, Victor, Broken Promise Land 1998) This area shows how important the Hispanic cultures is to these workers and how they are keeping it close.
We asked if there are many women who come to this day labor site. We were told that few women came here because it is very physical labor work and most women do not want to work in these jobs. Hector told us that some women would come but that they are referred to a candle factory around the Cave Creek and Union Hills.
Our observation of the Day Labor site was a positive experience. It showed a different view on Mexican immigration in that it provides labor in areas that Americans need. It is a place that immigrants can go to find work in order to provide for their families in a safer environment. It also showed us that working together is a positive aspect in uniting the different cultures.
As stated by our two informants, this site is working in Phoenix. The city’s donations along with the other private organizations provide the needed money to keep this program going. The volunteers and the community are also a major factor in the success of the Day Labor site.