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Penny Abeywardena

The Head Behind the Headlines

Organizing on a dusty corner? But of course.

You gotta hand it to folks who say outrageous things and then go on record-in the New York Times-with their first and last name! Last week, the most memorable line from a paper came courtesy of Ms. Marie Caupisch of Agoura Hills (or somewhere nearby). In Friday's article titled "On Dusty Corner, Laborers Band Together for More Pay," Marie tells the NYT - after she haggled over an additional $5 (per hour) with day laborers- "Fifteen dollars an hour, I can't afford it." She then drove away in her Mercedez-Benz 300D Turbo Diesel without any workers- even though she had attempted to spice up her $10 p/h offer with a free lunch.

Poor Marie just dealt with one of the only day laborer sites that set a minimum wage of $15 p/h. How'd they come to agree on this number? Well, Agoura Hills is one of the wealthier suburbs surrounding Los Angeles County and one of the laborers interviewed put it pretty succinctly, "Gas is expensive. Rent is expensive. Everything is expensive." Having grown up in LA, I can attest that everything is damn expensive. And no one feels it more than the laborers who show up on that dusty corner day after day ready to offer their services that range from gardening to carpentry.

The author of the NYT article recognizes the similarity between their bold strategy and the "crude unionization efforts of a century ago." Maybe it's been a long time since I've heard about "crude unionization efforts" but it definitely made me think- but of course! Why not more? Who's supporting such innovative efforts? Anyone?

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) was mentioned in passing in the article. Through their website I came to discover 29 groups organizing and supporting day laborers around the country. NDLON's sophisticated infrastructure assists these local groups in -ready?- legalization, civil & human rights, labor rights, education, organizing and the development of worker centers! And, at the end of a very long document detailing their achievements, they articulate 12 significant challenges- one of which is the "construction of a proactive day laborer movement capable of making changes in the labor market." From what I understand, it seems the Agoura Hills day laborers are providing them with an innovative way to approach this challenge.

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Posted at 6:30 AM, Jul 21, 2006 in Economy | Employment | Labor | Media | The Head Behind the Headlines
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