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LA PARADA: Day Labor on the Street-corner

Every morning hundreds of workers gather on street corners in Chicago's Albany Park neighbohood. They wait for what they call "contractors", employers who often pit worker against worker to pay the lowest wage possible.
Workers and community members say workers have gathered at the corner of Lawrence and Avers (know in Spanish as "La Parada" -- "The Stop") for nearly ten years. They most often seek work in construction, demolition, landscaping and other manual labor. Both workers and employers have found this situation meets needs for jobs for the workers and cheap, accessible labor for the employers. Nearly all of the workers are Latino immigrant men. Most come from Central America and Mexico. Some have documented legal status in this country, but many do not. Some workers have been in this country for only a few weeks. Most of the workers live in the neighborhood around La Parada.

Employers pay workers the lowest wage workers will accept. This often means that workers bargain down the cost of their labor, competing with each other for wages below the federal minimum wage. While this system gives workers
the opportunity to be independent entrepreneurs, it leads to poverty and exploitation by employers. It is also likely that employers also avoid state and federal taxes by keeping no formal record of their employees from La Parada.

In recent years various groups have undertaken efforts to help the workers find a secure location and address their many concerns. The Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues, an organization that works to organize clergy and other lay-leaders to support workers' struggles, began talking to workers in January, 2000. The group has learned of models in other cities where non-governmental groups have helped workers organize themselves to get better wages, safer working conditions and a secure space to build relationships with employers and find work. The Interfaith Committee's initial goal was to talk to workers and find out what their concerns were and move from there to help them think strategically and practically about ways to address those concerns. One major concern is police discrimination against workers.

Workers have told the Interfaith Committee that they appreciate the City's efforts to provide them an alternate site to the Lawrence Ave. sidewalk where they can seek work.
This new location is the Salvation Army at 5054 N. Pulaski. In the past two weeks very few employers have come to find workers. Part of the reason may be a lack of information. Employers may also be wary of the City's
involvement. Finally, the location is far removed from the street and less convenient than the Lawrence Ave. site.
Workers are also concerned that police discrimination aimed at Latino men is continuing on Lawrence Ave even after most workers have moved to the Salvation Army.

The Interfaith Committee is now working hand in hand with workers to develop a strategy that will create a worker-run worker-organized Workers' Center.
 
 

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