Laborers Ask Council to Stop Exploitation

By Sarah Kandiko

             Solidarity was the common theme Tuesday, September 4th as one-hundred plus people rallied to support the Day Labor Organizing Committee (formerly the Low Wage Workers Union).  The hearings attracted labor and social service activist to the City Council main chambers on the abuses faced by homeless people of temporary labor companies in Cleveland.

            Congressman Dennis Kucinich gave a rousing speech, which boosted the crowd moral and echoed the sentiments of the room before twenty-three people spoke of their experiences.  The workers each spoke to their own experiences and a variety of people testified.  Chuck Daley, a 56-year-old African-American gentleman, spoke of his sadness of not being able to give his grandchildren gifts at Christmas.  He has 15 cumulative years of experience at the temporary labor company’s agencies, while a young man spoke of his inability to get a permanent position.

            Brian Hazel was a social worker that then became homeless and was forced to find employment at the temporary labor companies.  John Davidson spoke of the unsafe working conditions such as the absence of back braces for heavy lifting, the lack of air conditioning or drink breaks on extremely hot days.  Davidson mentioned the lack of breaks including only a fifteen-minute lunch break.

            Elizabeth Darden also spoke about unsafe work conditions in reference to the lack of first-aid resources available at many of the job sites.  She also discussed the lack of time she was able to spend with her family as a result of working long hour’s everyday.  Many women spoke of gender discrimination that they are subjected to in historically male dominated labor jobs.  A young homeless man testified that he simply refuses to work at the agencies because of their negative effect on the community.

            Hakeem Ali spoke of the continuation of the cycle of poverty and how the agencies keep workers on for 60-89 days, but never 90, thereby side-stepping a contractual agreement that requires temporary workers to be hired after 90 days.

            These common themes of discrimination, racism, and the inability to get a permanent position, are only some of the complaints against the temporary labor companies.  Unsafe conditions at work was another one that ran deep, as well as favoritism, sexism and a host of other problems.                                                                                                                                                                                                   The most common complain, however, was the less than minimum wage pay that workers receive, which often amounts to a $25-30 dollars for what turns out to be a 14 hour work day including waiting.  One man, who has been working for the temporary labor companies for 22 years, compared being homeless 20 years ago with being homeless today when he said he would get a room, a meal and a beer for $25 whereas now he ass to decide between a room and a meal for the night.

            Brian Davis, Executive Director of Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) spoke about the need for jobs that pay a living wage and do not perpetuate the cycle of homelessness and poverty.  He also emphasized the bravery and courage of each individual who testified, as doing so put their jobs on the line.  Dan Kerr, who has been instrumental in organizing the DLOC, gave a brief summary of the project.

            Councilman Joe Cimperman convened the hearings and John Ryan, president of the Cleveland chapter of the AFL-CIO, also spoke and expressed solidarity with the cause.  City Councilmen Coats, Jackson, Polenscek and Westrook dropped by as well, some speaking to express their concern and desire to learn more about the situation, while others simply listened.  There were representatives from temporary labor companies present, but they declined to speak when given the chance.

            Councilman Joe Cimperman brought the hearings to a close by appointing Dan Kerr to head working groups on the issue, and suggested reviewing existing legislation, and moving ahead with the idea of a community hiring hall.  The day ended outside with an impromptu meeting of the DLOC, who agreed with Cimperman’s ideas and debated over the issue of whether or not to meet with the temporary agencies (at their request).  In addition Brian Davis encouraged people to report any blacklisting or harassment that occurs as a result of testifying to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) who will keep them on record.  Thus far, at least four members have been blacklisted by the downtown temporary labor agencies.

 Copyright NEOCH published 2001 Cleveland Ohio Issue 50