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Some Fulton day laborers skeptical of new hiring hall effort


The organizers of a new day labor center in Fulton have their work cut out for them.

A previous effort to organize day laborers along Fulton Road left some workers feeling suspicious of outside help, and some say they won't participate with the new day labor center.

"There's no trust here," said Jose Alberto Victoria, a day laborer who has been seeking work on Fulton Road for 12 years.

Victoria and others said the previous day labor project, sponsored by St. Joseph Health Sonoma County, was not operated fairly and favored some workers over others. It was shuttered about two years ago.

California Human Development, the Santa Rosa nonprofit now managing the Fulton Road center, had nothing to do with the previous operation, said Martha Nu?z, program coordinator. The center's new managers are simply trying to organize day laborers and provide much-needed services, such as English classes and job placement, she said.

"Don't judge me by somebody else's actions," Nu?z said.

The impetus for the project came out of a town hall event hosted by north county Supervisor Mike McGuire in early 2011. During the forum, McGuire heard from Fulton residents about the long-standing issues surrounding day laborers who gather along Fulton Road.

After a year of meetings, CHD agreed to open a hiring hall similar to the one the nonprofit has operated in Healdsburg for years. The Fulton center, which is housed in a mobile trailer on Second Street, between Fulton and River roads, opened Aug. 12 as part of a pilot program to test its impact in the small community.

The hiring process is rather simple, Nu?z said. An employer fills out a form, providing minimal information, such as his or her name, the location of the job site, a phone number, the number of hours the employee is expected to work and the rate of pay. The employer is matched with a willing employee, with pay rates starting at $12 an hour and up.

Inside the mobile center, workstations with laptop computers will be available to help day laborers search for jobs. Workers will be able to take computer-based English classes and prepare resumes and cover letters.

Other services, including case management, food assistance and referrals for housing, shelter or clothing, will also be provided.

Workers are slowly warming up to this latest effort to organize workers.

"Five workers went out on jobs yesterday," Nu?z said on Wednesday.

Fulton has long been a hub for day laborers searching for work. Their labor is sought by a range of employers, from ranchers who need an extra hand to local residents who need help doing yard work or small construction jobs.

Some of the workers who gather in Fulton see no reason for the center and have refused to participate.

Daniel Lopez said he didn't think the center would succeed in organizing workers because of the history with St. Joseph Health's previous center. He, Victoria and others said they didn't think there was any model of organizing that would work on Fulton Road.

Dory Escobar, director of community benefits for St. Joseph Health, said the previous effort was aimed at "building the grassroots capacity to address social determinants of health," not to simply create a hiring hall.

Responding to charges the former center favored some workers over others, Escobar said St. Joseph Health "brought together the folks that wanted to come together. We didn't pick and choose anyone."

"The social nuances within the day labor community are old and complex," she said.

Toward the end of St. Joseph's tenure in Fulton, tensions between workers who were participating in the formal hiring process and those who refused grew competitive and even hostile.

Nu?z agreed that there is a small group of workers who were resisting the center's work. She said some were more interested in drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana than finding work.

Nu?z's boss, Sylvie Vatinelle, said she hoped to avoid conflict with some of the workers who refuse to participate.

"I don't think we need to make a big brouhaha," Vatinelle said. "We leave them alone and they leave us alone. If you build it they will come. They'll start trusting us."