Friday’s Off Ramp: Day Laborers at the San Carlos Home Depot.
July 10, 2009
First of all, lest anyone bash me for even bringing this topic up, I understand the whole self-employment thing. When I left the safety net of corporate employment and launched my real estate career, I became self-employed. There's no safety net when you own your own business — no sales means no paycheck. No paycheck means no mortgage, and so on. That's the thrill and peril of being in business for yourself.
That's why I don't have a problem with the growing crowd of day laborers that gather every day in the San Carlos Home Depot looking for work. They have a living to make, and a family to support. We're not much different in that respect.
Loitering, or a Legal Right?
The phenomenon of workers gathering in Home Depot parking lot looking for work is not unique to San Carlos. In fact, it happens across the country. One of the first questions everyone seems to have is this: Is it legal for them to hang out there, or is it loitering?
The answer may surprise you. It turns out that it's very legal, and the rights of the day laborers have been protected and upheld in court. Other communities in the country that have tried to make this practice illegal, and a few cities have been successfully sued under the umbrella of civil rights. The San Carlos Police have an outstanding summary on their website that explains the legal precedence, and consequently the City's official position. If you're at all interested, I highly recommend reading this post: City of San Carlos: Day Laborers at Home Depot.
Is Trouble Brewing?
Reality check time…. We're in a recession, and less money is being spent everywhere. This has had an adverse effect on everyone, from wealthy CEO's, to Realtors, to law-abiding folks who wait out in front of Home Depot in hopes for some part-time work. And if I had to guess, I'd say there's now more laborers gathering that are trying to split a shrinking employment pie. Not a good recipe.
The last few times I have been to Home Depot, I have noticed a marked increase in their “assertiveness” in trying to get the attention of folks who pull into the parking lot, and I've had a few of them shout something at me as I drove by. Not a big deal. But the icing on the cake in my book was the near riot I witnessed last week when a U-Haul truck pulled up looking for workers. It became an instant melee as about 12-15 men fought to get the two seats in the front– lots of pushing and a few punches thrown…
It resolved itself pretty quickly, but it was unnerving to watch…and it got me thinking about what could have happened.
What's your take on this? Are you cool with the situation at Home Depot? Have you noticed any changes? Post a comment below….
Update: San Mateo is fighting a public sentiment issue regarding day laborers too. Read about it in this article in the Daily Journal: Day Laborers Irk Neighbors.
(The Friday Off Ramp series is just an occasional editorial on Fridays about stuff that happens in San Carlos.)