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December 19, 2006 > New day labor center in Hayward

New day labor center in Hayward

Will a center devoted to helping mostly illegal immigrants make a difference in the Tennyson Road vicinity?

by Steve Warga

A divided and conflicted city council voted 5 - 1 last Tuesday in favor of establishing a Day Worker Program that will cater to a population of casual laborers composed largely of undocumented, illegal immigrants. The contract was awarded to a coalition of church congregations known as South Hayward Parish. Despite lacking any experience in this sort of venture, the Parish's bid for 18 months of operating capital got the nod over three others. The next highest bid, by an experienced provider, was nearly half-again as much. With $86,000 from city coffers in hand, plus cash and in-kind donations from various service agencies and St. Rose Hospital, the program is slated to commence operations within 60 days of the December 12 council vote.

In opening discussions, Councilmember Bill Ward noted that the idea of a day labor center "was not new and has been tried with some success around the state and in other parts of the country." Fellow Councilmember Olden Henson somewhat contradicted Ward's assessment noting "a high failure rate with this sort of program." Even so, Henson would go on to join Ward in favor of the grant.

Councilmember Bill Quirk expressed considerable concerns about city liabilities should the funding be approved. City Attorney Michael O'Toole suggested there would be no change in city liability insurance premiums and added, "Regarding the possibility of other liabilities, it's remote at best." After his motion to look for alternatives was not even seconded, Quirk cast the only "nay" in the final tally.

Echoing earlier observations, Councilmember Kevin Dowling noted the desire of nearby businesses and residents to see the clusters of workers congregating somewhere other than sidewalks, curbs and parking lots. Dowling felt the idea offered lots of positives, in the face of the high failure rates noted by Henson. Dowling went on to suggest that other, established charities might actually have a greater need for the money than an untested program like the one proposed. He added that he could think of two or three programs off the top of his head.

Yet, when the motion was called, Dowling joined the majority in favor. He offered no solution to the needs of those other service programs that might have a greater need than the day worker program.

It was left up to Councilmember Barbara Halliday to finally admit the one major objection to the plan. "The concerns are that we are helping undocumented immigrants, non-U.S. citizens." After this moment of honesty, Halliday launched into a passionate defense of the plan, referring to "helping people who are in need; children who are hungry." A check of records revealed no reported cases in recent years of children suffering from malnutrition or starvation in the Tennyson Road vicinity.

Halliday also emphasized how Hayward's non-binding "living wage" ordinance would be strictly enforced with contractors interested in hiring from the center. This topic illuminated a significant flaw in the whole idea. Whether illegal or not, these individuals, mostly males, aren't in high demand from legitimate businesses because they have not bothered to acquire the skills or attributes that would make them attractive to an employer. So, where will all these socially-conscious employers come from, as Halliday and others envision? And why will these employers forsake tried and proven methods for locating and screening new hires?

Despite a record of failures in other venues, and a contractor lacking experience, Hayward's elected leaders still voted to spend city money on what amounts to an ambitious social experiment. Mayor Mike Sweeney did vote "aye," but he also voiced some reservations. "The real test is will we move these individuals out of parking lots and off the streets?" The answer remains to be seen.

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