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Guerneville hopes to build on success of day labor center


The Guerneville Day Labor Center consists of a picnic table and two portable toilets sitting at a commuter parking lot.

But its organizers hope it is the start of a compromise to keep day-laborers away from tourist destinations and to establish a permanent hiring center to benefit those seeking work in the lower Russian River area.

The center opened this winter and has signed up more than two dozen workers to take various skilled and unskilled jobs, its lead organizer said.

Later this month, the center?s members and west Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo will meet with river residents to speak about the issues surrounding day laborers.

?My hope for this gathering of sorts is to bring the people together around this issue ... to find a solution, much as Graton did a few years back,? Carrillo said.

Other organizers previously have established day labor centers in Graton, Healdsburg and Fulton. The Fulton and Guerneville centers remain little more than tables by the side of the road, but Graton and Healdsburg have structures where workers can get out of the rain and sun.

For years, day laborers in Guerneville seeking work have congregated near a convenience store on a street corner along the town?s main business strip. Some business people think the mostly male laborers can hurt businesses that rely largely on tourism.

?I don?t think that?s a good place to have day laborers soliciting for work,? said Dax Berg, owner of the Sonoma Nesting Co., an antiques, art and furnishings store.

He called the labor center ?a wonderful solution? because ?it shows we?re working together as a community.?

When the Graton organizing effort began in 2004, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement called it illegal to employ a person who is not authorized to work in the United States.

But Carrillo said, ?That?s a federal immigration policy, and at the local level we?re not charged with implementing that policy.? Moreover, he said, the day laborers ?are working individuals in our community.?

Suzanna Mayo, a bilingual former school teacher, proposed the Guerneville center after moving to town last fall. She invited staff from the Graton center to speak with the mostly Latino laborers in Guerneville on the benefits of a labor center. Since then, three laborers have stepped forward to become leaders, she said.

Davin Cardenas, the Graton center?s outreach coordinator, said the majority of day laborers in that community now seek work through the center. Moreover, he said, the center teachers members English and other vocational skills so the laborers can ?better their lives.?

Mayo, who teaches lessons in ?survival? English and Spanish, said she wanted to help create a center where those who hire feel safe and those hired can get a fair wage. The center encourages the workers to earn $12 an hour for simple labor and $18 for such skilled work as cutting tile or installing windows.

Mayo said she was moved to act not only by compassion, but also because of her many opportunities to experience the cultures of Latinos from several nations.

?I don?t know how to say it exactly,? she said, ?but I?m indebted.?

She also has proved resourceful. When Kirk Campbell, owner of Campbell Construction in Santa Rosa, offered to donate to the workers a wild boar that his son Bradley had shot and tagged, Mayo found business people who processed and safely stored the pork. She plans to hold a barbecue later this month and is inviting all the day laborers in town.

The community forum on the labor center will be held at 6p.m. May 14 at the town?s veterans building.

Supervisor Carrillo said the town needs to find answers that promote ?equity and fairness to everybody.?

?Ultimately,? he said, ?I believe that day labor centers are the solution.?

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat

.com.