Tension rise over Kings Beach day laborers
Every morning of every day of the year, a group of men, many of them Latino immigrants, gather in front of the 7-Eleven market in Kings Beach to wait for work.
A black cap shading his face, Victor Santos sat against a tree in a vacant lot opposite the convenience store Monday morning. His eyes followed each passing car.
Santos said he’s hired about once every three days, mostly for construction-type jobs. He said he makes around $15 an hour, most of which he sends back to Mexico to support his two sons and wife in Oaxaca, a state in Mexico’s south.
The group of 30 men ” the number can vary from 10 to 50 ” arrives around 7 a.m. every day, said Daniel Garcia, another hopeful in search of work. They wait three or four hours. If no work has come by late morning, the group disperses.
“It’s more opportunity right here; more work, more money,” Garcia said.
The group has grown since Garcia first arrived in Kings Beach several years ago, and higher numbers has meant an increased public profile that some area residents find uncomfortable.
“[Placer County Sheriffs] do receive complaints periodically regarding the amount of people hanging around the 7-Eleven in the morning,” said Deputy Dave Hunt. “Some public members feel threatened by the large amount of people that are standing there.”
Beyond harassment complaints, the waiting workers violate 7-Eleven’s alcohol license, which does not permit loitering on any site that sells alcohol, said 7-Eleven owners Edee and Matthew Campbell.
Alcohol is one of the primary sources of revenue for the small franchise store, Matthew Campbell said. Losing the store’s alcohol license would mean losing their business.
“We’re just trying to identify a possible location to move these guys to,” Matthew Campbell said. “Because it was put to us at 7-Eleven [that] if they weren’t relocated, it would jeopardize our ABC license, our alcohol license.”
But relocating the day laborers ” who have been waiting outside the store every morning, rain or shine, since Edee Campbell bought the franchise 18 years ago ” is a double-edged sword.
The workers are loyal customers who come to the market everyday, the Campbells said. And their labor is available and frequently used by the community.
“I feel for the guys because they are, for the most part, trying to make a living for themselves and their family,” Matthew Campbell said. “And here there are some anonymous citizens who are complaining and don’t have any solution that we know of. They just want them out of sight.”
Though no resolution has been found yet, a committee of local community leaders, organizations and residents is meeting to discuss possible short- and long-term solutions.
The committee has set three goals that take a humanitarian approach: To provide a temporary day-labor location, with a shelter protecting the workers from harsh weather; to create a safe environment not only for the workers, but also for the community; and, lastly, to set up a program with a focus on education, worker’s rights and legal assistance, said Emilio Vaca, a committee member who was recently involved in Truckee’s day-labor relocation.
“[The committee] has one common interest ” just to be humanitarian about it. There’s no political agenda,” Vaca said. “How can we make a pro-active and positive solution, rather than just moving the problem?”
In the end, the workers need to be incorporated into the community, Vaca said. But residents also have to integrate the day laborers into the community’s social fabric.
“I think for the community, there’s a cultural difference,” said Pastor Kathryn Dunning of the Kings Beach United Methodist Church. “Within the Latino culture, it’s a common thing to find a common place to wait for work, and that’s not something our predominant culture is used to.”
Placer County Sheriff’s personnel are enforcing laws for loitering, harassment and safety, Deputy Hunt said. They would like to resolve the issue, not through citations, but by finding a solution that works for all involved.
“Ultimately, we’re the enforcement hand for the laws with the state,” Hunt said. “But we’re also there to problem-solve and we’re just there as a guide. We’re not there to make any decisions for [the committee].”
Deputy Hunt plays an advisory role on the committee, making sure that its decisions address the issues of loitering, harassment and public safety.
“We hope they understand that there are laws in Placer County and local ordinances,” Hunt said. “We want to make sure they’re aware of those.”
Deputy Hunt said Placer County Sheriff’s are not actively looking into the day laborer’s legal or illegal status. Deputies have no reason to ask for identification unless an individual is committing a crime, Hunt said.
“You probably have illegals out there, you probably have legal citizens out there,” Hunt said. “It’s not really, primarily, an immigrant issue. You’ve got all walks of life standing there looking for work. But standing there in front of a place that sells alcohol is not the place to do it.”
As part of its long-term goal, the committee wishes to create a worker center that would assist with the immigration process.
“It’s certainly a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of situation,” Pastor Dunning said. “But the illegal status ” I don’t think it’s the reason they’re waiting on the corner. I just think it’s people who don’t have work and want to work.”
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