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February 04, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, February 04, 2005

Day worker feud revived Day worker feud revived (February 04, 2005)

Mediation sessions come to a halt; grant in jeopardy

By Jon Wiener

The battle over Mountain View's day worker center will not die, and workers and others waiting for a resolution are going to have to keep doing so for the foreseeable future.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society sent a letter last week to representatives of the day worker center it used to operated at Calvary Church, declaring an end to mediation sessions designed to resolve the dispute.

In October, the church's pastor, Jim Stringer, locked St. Vincent de Paul out of the church's multipurpose room after officials fired center director Maria Marroquin amid allegations of theft and favoritism. President John Rinaldi quit the charity's board in protest, and began organizing support to reopen the center independent of the charity.

Two weeks ago, St. Vincent de Paul executive director Steve Pehanich turned in his own resignation.

Pehanich, who said he will stay in the position for several months, denied that his decision had anything to do with the day worker feud, but Rinaldi wasn't buying it.

"There's no question in my mind that the pressure that we put on him caused him to resign," said Rinaldi. "If I had stayed, I would have had to fire him." The center is continuing to operate, with Mountain View City Council member Greg Perry serving as president, but rancor still abounds between the groups and tens of thousands of dollars in foundation money remains in dispute.

The two sides are both aiming for control of the largest chunk, a $62,000 grant from the Peninsula Community Foundation. St. Vincent de Paul had earned the grant last August to support the center. But after the split, both sides laid claim to it.

A report on how St. Vincent de Paul has used those funds is due in February, according to Marjorie Fujiki, who oversees the grant for the foundation. She said that the foundation will revoke the grant if the society cannot use the money for its intended purpose.

"Our concern is that services are provided to the day workers so they can get hooked up with employers," said Fujiki.

Pehanich, who said St. Vincent de Paul is holding out the possibility of opening up another center, maintains that the society is continuing to do exactly that.

"(My resignation) doesn't change at all St. Vincent de Paul's commitment to the day workers. That's been an organizational priority," said Pehanich.

Since the split, St. Vincent de Paul has been providing food and rental assistance to a group of day workers who raised complaints about Marroquin and boycotted the center. Some of those workers and their sympathizers are still taking turns standing vigil in front of an Escuela Avenue apartment complex next to the center.

Marroquin said that they are welcome to come back to the center and is concerned that day workers who get their jobs on the street expose themselves to abuses by employers who aren't held accountable. The center hosted a march from the church to city hall last Thursday in a nationwide protest for day workers' rights.

An official with the national organization of day laborers visited last week and is compiling recommendations for the two parties on how to reconcile their differences. But those workers huddled out on Escuela said they will only return to the centerde if Marroquin leaves, a prospect that is unlikely at best.

"The thing that's so frustrating for them is that we were able to put this (center) together," said Rinaldi, who helped open it in 1996, two years before it merged with St. Vincent de Paul.

Of the center's current state, he added, "We're operating, we're not flourishing."

But then again, "we were never flourishing."

E-mail Jon Wiener at [email protected]

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