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Sonoma County day laborers rally for jobs amid pandemic

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For more information about the Graton Day Labor Center, go to gratondaylabor.org.

Most mornings, Anayeli Guzman is up before the sun.

She arrives at the Graton Day Labor Center as early as 5 a.m., and then she waits, with dozens of others, to see if there’s any work.

Guzman specializes in lawn care. Before COVID-19, finding full-time, daily work through the center was nearly automatic.

Now, 11 months into the punishing pandemic that has crippled the economy, Guzman usually makes the return trip to her home, where she lives with her husband and their 9-year-old daughter, with nothing to show for her efforts.

“It’s very common to not have work (now),” said Guzman, speaking through a translator Sunday morning outside the Home Depot store in Rohnert Park.

Hundreds of local day laborers, many of whom who are undocumented immigrants and don’t have access to unemployment benefits or coronavirus relief funding, have seen their ability to earn a living evaporate amid the pandemic due to sickness and a slowdown in daily hiring.

On Sunday, Guzman joined dozens of fellow workers who held signs and handed out informational brochures along Redwood Drive in Rohnert Park with a simple message: Hire us.

“Members of the Graton Day Labor Center wanted to be able to send a message to the community that the best way to support them during the pandemic is to hire them,” said Renee Saucedo, an organizer with the center.

Saucedo said this was the first such event since the coronavirus made its way into Sonoma County last March, hitting members hard on a variety of fronts. Some have lost work due to the sickness, which has disproportionately impacted the county’s Latino community. Latinos account for 27% of the county’s population but 67% of the coronavirus cases in which race and ethnicity are known, according to county public health statistics.

The Graton Day Labor Center since 2007 been a rallying point for Mexican immigrants seeking work in Sonoma County, carrying on a Graton tradition of work via street corner that goes back 70 years. Along with aid in finding work, the worker-owned cooperative nonprofit provides advocacy and training in leadership and civics, among other services.

The center’s workers on Sunday sought to curb fears that have caused some members of the public to stop hiring day laborers.

“There’s nothing to fear,” Porforio Vasquez, one of the workers present for Sunday’s rally, said through an interpreter. Contact is kept to a minimum, Vasquez said, workers wear masks and maintain social distance.

But the decline in demand for their labor is real, said Vasquez, who specializes in carpentry. He said he’s lucky to find work three days per week.

“Right now, we’re going through a very tough time; not just myself, but many of us,” said Vasquez, who works to support his wife and two children.

There is little safety net for day laborers who don’t get hired. Many, including Vasquez and Guzman, who declined to disclose their citizenship status, are unable to access unemployment benefits. Some undocumented families have been able to obtain state payments, but none have been able to receive federal stimulus checks, Saucedo said. Sonoma County, too, has offered direct payments to people impacted by the pandemic, regardless of citizenship status.

“I think there’s a lack of political will to aid everyone who is impacted by this pandemic,” Saucedo said. “If they were smart, they wouldn’t make a distinction between those who have documents and those who don’t. If this community is suffering, that means their extended families are suffering and their entire community.”

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @TylerSilvy

More information

For more information about the Graton Day Labor Center, go to gratondaylabor.org.

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