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Jornaleros: A Case Study in Recruitment
(March 20, 2008) It's a daytime nightmare for recruiters, for job-seekers, and for bystanders alike. If you think you have problems managing the flow of applicants for your jobs, pay a visit to the Home Depot in Hollywood in order to get perspective, and to find vivid metaphors for how challenging the process can become.
One is almost afraid to enter the parking lot for fear of running over a day laborer soliciting work. Every day, about 230 men, all of them from Latin America, stand in front of the store at Sunset Boulevard and St. Andrews from dawn well into the afternoon. They jostle for the best spots on the sidewalk close to the lot entrances, to offer their muscles for the homeowners, landlords, and contractors who come to the store for building supplies. Home Depot's security guards continually ride through the parking lot in golf carts to push the jornaleros, Spanish for day-laborers, off the private property and out to the public domain of the sidewalk. But some of the jornaleros infiltrate back into the lot as soon as the guards pass by.
As the United States seems to be unable to stanch the flow of undocumented immigrants over its borders, so Home Depot can't completely seal its property from this invasion, either. But things would be worse had the company not taken a creative measure to mitigate, if not eliminate, the problem. When you can't cure a social ill, you limit your ambition to "harm reduction".
Home Depot achieved a measure of relief from the jornalero invasion by joining the army they can't beat. They partnered with a nonprofit group called the Institute of Popular Education, which is supported by the City of Los Angeles. Home Depot donated money and space to enable the group to create the Hollywood Community Job Center. Jornaleros can register at the trailer behind the Home Depot building, and gather at the picnic tables on the asphalt next to it. Contractors and homeowners can call the Job Center and line up day laborers. Since the Job Center isn't the employer of record, there is no need to check citizenship status. But any trouble that an employer reports with a registered worker is noted and may result the worker losing the privilege of using the Job Center. Likewise, employers who fail to pay their workers or otherwise mistreat them are also put on record. So the employers get workers that have been at least minimally vetted, and the workers get more pay security and a bit more access to jobs. The registered workers are guaranteed a $10 per hour wage. They are entitled to wear marked blue vests and congregate in the Home Depot parking lot to solicit work. Anyone doing the same without the blue vest is chased off the lot by the store security guards, and also might be given the what-for by the men with the vests from the Job Center.
The men hovering outside the lot entrance take their chances with the security guards, with the other jornaleros in the blue vests, and with employers. Two of the blue-vested jornaleros with whom I spoke, Luis and Alfred, said that the men outside might be able to make $12 or $15 an hour, but they often get cheated by the contractors or others who employ them. It's not uncommon for them to do several days' work and then get sent home without a paycheck.
Employers also take more chances with the vest-less workers. "See that guy over there," pointed the Hispanic security guard from his golf cart. "He's a thief. This is the thing people don't realize when they hire these guys. Lots of them will steal from your jobsite."
The Job Center's system has resulted in a rough truce between the store and the jornaleros, and a modus vivendi between employers and workers. And it offers proof that there are ways for low-wage workers to become vested interests.
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