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Day Worker Center faces new challenge every day

20 years in, center labors to provide a fair day's work

To get a glimpse of tenacity in action, just take a look inside the Mountain View Day Worker Center.

Each day, dozens of individuals gather inside for a chance to earn a little by the sweat of their brow. The workers are a motley crew that includes retirees, immigrants and some homeless, but they are united in a common desire for an honest day's work.

The same perseverance is true for the Day Worker Center itself, which is still going strong after about 20 years in Mountain View. But the center's mission to find daily jobs for its members becomes a little harder with each passing year.

It's a struggle consisting of many little parts, said Maria Marroquin, the center's founder and executive director. Much of the center's workforce or "compaƱeros," as Marroquin puts it are dealing with the most intractable problems in Silicon Valley. Many lack stable housing nearby, and some commute long distances for the uncertain prospect of an assignment. Winter is always the hardest time of year the weather is gloomy and the jobs are sparse. Homeowners often hire the center's workers for gutter cleaning or hanging Christmas lights, but it doesn't replace the loss of the gardening chores in the warmer months. Marroquin also points to the Trump administration and its anti-immigrant rhetoric, which has create an atmosphere of fear for many of her workers.

"We're stable and strong, but it's difficult to separate what the administration says from the human side of our work," she said. "Emotionally, there's just more stress these days."

The Mountain View Day Worker Center is one of seven nonprofit organizations serving Mountain View residents that benefit from the Voice's annual Holiday Fund. Donations are divided among the nonprofits and are administered by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation at no cost, with 100 percent of contributions going to the recipients.

The Day Worker Center recently hired a new associate director, and the organization is testing out some new programs. One recurring problem is many of the center's most regular workers are getting up in years. Jobs involving hard manual labor are sometimes too taxing for them.

With the help of a grant, the center is testing out a new "Seniors Helping Seniors" program, which connects older workers with older employers. It's meant to be mutually beneficial many senior residents in Mountain View need help with basic tasks but they lack the money to hire ongoing help. Thanks to a grant from the local Kiwanis Club, the Day Worker Center is able to subsidize the $20-an-hour cost of sending out workers to handle these tasks.

Kent Carter, a Mountain View resident, is one worker who has occasionally been sent out to aid fellow seniors through the program. On one day he was asked to perform simple gardening; on another job he was stuffing hundreds of envelopes, he said. It's always a toss-up what the day's work will involve, he said.

"I'm 60 years old and I don't like to beat myself up," he said. "You never know what kind of job you're going to get when you walk through that door."

But the chance of a job still beats the alternative, said Toni Cervantes, a Hollister resident who commuted three hours that morning to the center. She was hardly alone many of the workers milling about the center had traveled from far-flung areas to work in Mountain View.

"When I come here, I make more money," Cervantes said. "Otherwise, I'd be working all day for minimum wage."

The Day Worker Center plans to pilot another new program to have some of its workers teach classes. In particular, Marroquin would like to have Spanish as a second language courses taught by some of the in-house native speakers. A pair of workers was developing a curriculum that mixed language with cultural instruction. The goal is for students to gain Spanish proficiency while the teachers would learn how to educate, Marroquin explained.

"My view is that each of us has something to share," she said. "One thing the workers know how to do is speak Spanish, so this is a way for them to share that knowledge."

She expects the new classes to start sometime in February.

On any given morning, dozens of workers show up at the center and each are assigned a number representing where they are in the job queue. If your number is anywhere from one to 20, you have a good shot at a day's work. Numbers 21 through 30 are encouraged to stick around past noon, but they might not get work that day. Anyone higher than that is free to go rather than wait around.

Henry Alexander was No. 14 on Monday as he sat around chatting with his colleagues. A retired medical quality technician from Campbell, he now regularly comes to Mountain View to work as a way "to get off the couch," he said. Plus his acting and modeling career had hit a lull, he said.

Reaching into his backpack, he pulled out a March 2001 copy of Time magazine, and flipped over to a AARP advertisement showing his smiling face with a woman and a pair of kids. He had also appeared in ads for Lincoln-Mercury, Cool Whip and Discover credit cards, he said. Working at the Day Worker Center is an easy way to get occasional jobs while leaving his schedule flexible for any gigs, he said.

At that point, a clerk came out of the front office and called out Alexander's number. There was a job to till a yard, she said. Did he want it?

"Like with a rototiller?" he asked, pondering it for a second. "Sure thing, sounds good."

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Comments

16 people like this
Posted by mari
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 12, 2018 at 5:09 pm

I called often offering job opportunities, including live in, and have no interest or response from anybody in the center. I don't know why they are feeling self pity.


116 people like this
Posted by Liability Waiting
a resident of Bailey Park
on Dec 12, 2018 at 5:44 pm

"Homeowners often hire the center's workers for gutter cleaning or hanging Christmas lights"

Homeowners should know they expose themselves to huge liabilities if a worker is hurt falling off a ladder. And you'd be surprised how dangerous ladders are and they statistics on injuries and even fatalities.


Like this comment
Posted by Helpful
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 12, 2018 at 6:47 pm

I beieve they carry some form of insurance. I am not sure if it is workers comp as that is expensive and would be diifficult to work for those rates.


9 people like this
Posted by jeff whistler
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 12, 2018 at 8:16 pm

This day worker thing is a good deal, however, training and education should be encouraged this is the only way to have a stable life and drug and alcohol treatment should be included. It is a horrible life traveling for three hours for a job and then working for 8 hours. Trump is not anti-immigrant but rather anti-illegal-immigrant. I can only hope that one day all ppl can benefit from working. I thank Jesus I am not homeless and that I get medical help. MERRY CHRISTMAS :)


2 people like this
Posted by JC
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Dec 13, 2018 at 8:44 am

In response to the Bailey Park resident "Liability Waiting", here is what is on their website:
"California law requires a homeowner's insurance policy to provide worker's compensation coverage for injuries incurred by a "residential employee" injured during their course of employment by the homeowner. A "residential employee" is someone who has earned more than $100 during the preceding 90 days. Most homeowner's insurance policies also include coverage for personal liability and medical payments to others as a result of injury while on your property; however, you may prefer to contact the provider of your homeowner's insurance policy for more information."


10 people like this
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Monta Loma
on Dec 13, 2018 at 10:23 am

Do not hire anyone unless they can provide and prove they have workers comp. I have found a good portion of established contractors in the Bay area do not have workers comp and if asked some will even lie. Make sure you get proof in hand. Your common liability insurance will not cover the possible massive payout involving an injured worker and his family.


1 person likes this
Posted by Kilda
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2018 at 11:41 am

Have used the center for odd jobs I can't do myself and always have been pleased with the workers.


6 people like this
Posted by Liability Waiting
a resident of Bailey Park
on Dec 13, 2018 at 2:21 pm

"California law requires a homeowner's insurance policy to provide worker's compensation coverage for injuries incurred by a "residential employee" injured during their course of employment by the homeowner."

Does this apply to illegal laborers? It's a valid question.

"Most homeowner's insurance policies also include coverage for personal liability and medical payments to others as a result of injury while on your property"

Key word is MOST. That does not imply ALL.

"You may prefer to contact the provider of your homeowner's insurance policy for more information."

MAY should be replaced with MUST!


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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