Bob Wentworth—owner of Wentworth Chevrolet Subaru on SE Grand—pulled his Silverado pickup truck into the parking lot at SE 6th and Ankeny, flipped down the tailgate, and set up a portable sound system.
Wentworth, along with nearly 50 day laborers—plus a handful of laborers' advocates, a cop, and a rep from the mayor's office—were meeting in the lot last Thursday, April 26 to talk face to face about an issue that's been dividing the neighborhood. Some business owners, like Wentworth, want the day laborers to move elsewhere. The laborers (or jornaleros, as they call themselves) want to stay put.
"We need to try and improve conditions for day laborers, but ensure retail businesses can continue to operate," Wentworth told the crowd, speaking into a wireless microphone before an advocate translated his message into Spanish. In the long term, that means working with the jornaleros and the city to start a day laborer center—a place where the workers can wait inside until someone pulls up with a job offer. But until a center materializes, Wentworth is concerned for his employees and customers, many of whom "don't realize that you're just looking for work," and complain about the crowd of men. "Many of our customers do not understand why strangers are approaching them," Wentworth explained.
Then it was the jornaleros' turn. "If we had a more settled place, the problems wouldn't go away, but they'd diminish a bit," said a man named Victor, his Spanish translated into English. In the meantime, "we need to educate ourselves and the bosses that drive by," he added. Another worker agreed: "We're really poorly organized if a family with kids drives up, and we all run up to them. If we don't do something about this, we'll face the consequences."
The laborers also have fears, explained Romeo Sosa of VOZ, the laborers' advocacy group—like being moved to a new spot where employers won't find them.
"Day laborers have fought for many years to have this corner," one worker explained. "We can't just go to any corner."
To try and quell neighbors' concerns, a few jornaleros had met earlier with Sosa, to come up with ideas for self-policing—like raising a hand when a car approaches. "And if they get a response, then approach" to ask about work, Sosa explained.
With that, Shizuko Hashimoto of the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee—acting as one of the meeting's translators and moderators—stepped up to the microphone. "There's a pretty big difference—in the short term, solutions don't match up," she said. The business owners and jornaleros pledged to keep talking.