More than 30 day laborers, joined by their families and advocates, packed City Council chambers yesterday to plead for city support for a permanent indoor location for day laborers to wait for work - a place they said would help protect them from exploitation by employers.
Members of the Committee on Education, Housing, Health and Human Services expressed support for such a location and said they would like to see the rest of the council adopt a resolution at its Monday meeting.
Council President Sheila Dixon, who drafted the resolution, said she hoped that a center would be the start of more attention toward workers' rights and the particular concerns of immigrant Latinos, who make up a large number of the workers. She suggested that the city name a task force to come up with ideas.
"We need to be looking for solutions so that they are treated fairly and so they become organized as individuals to protect themselves," she said. "These employers can't just think they can take people off the street and make them work without treating them fairly."
Day laborers' concerns were brought to city leadership in December after a report by the Hispanic advocacy group Casa of Maryland and the Homeless Persons Representation Project. It revealed stories of employers refusing to pay workers, paying less than minimum wage and discriminating against Latino workers, many of whom do not speak fluent English.
Yesterday, one day laborer said he was forced to clean medical waste without sufficient safety gear. A handful of workers equated working conditions with slave labor.
"Some of our employers, they do not pay us," said Francisco Rojas. "Sometimes they leave us after the job in places where we do not know where we are. We don't want a lot; we just want the opportunity to contribute to this great city."
While the city hasn't pledged money toward a day-laborer center, Mayor Martin O'Malley has said he would help Casa of Maryland secure grants and find a location. City staff said they were looking for a location in the Washington Hill neighborhood, close to a 7-Eleven store where many Latino day laborers wait.