by Colleen Bittner
Michael Stephens is a day laborer and DLOC member who has lived in Cleveland for about ten years. He’s worked part-time over the past several years for Minute Men and Ameritemps, and during that time he’s seen a lot of unfairness.
“If you are sent to a job and the company ends up not needing you through no fault of your own, you are supposed to be paid for four hours. However, this is often not the case, and you are still charged $2 for the van ride. The locations of temp places are near homeless shelters, which results basically in slave labor for pay. At Jacob’s Field they’ve pushed the time for garbage clean up from six hours down to four - so in the end each worker makes only about $18 for their efforts. Overall, anytime you go to these temp agencies, there is no respect for the people [the day laborers] that are making them rich,” says Michael.
He became involved with the DLOC when he was introduced to DLOC founder Dan Kerr. He began passing out fliers and worked with Dan to set up a hotline for day laborers with problems/concerns who had no outlet. After a few months of struggling the group started getting more recognition, and Michael was honored by Cleveland Jobs for Justice for his work.
“Oren and I are trying to get more people involved. We started having meetings and we recently went to Washington D.C. to learn about issues affecting day laborers throughout the country. We had a protest against the Secretary of Labor of 1,000 people, with coverage on CNN and in the Washington Post.”
Michael doesn’t get paid for his work with the DLOC and is taking a risk - the workers are starting to know him and once the temp agencies connect him with the DLOC, it will be harder for him to get work.
So why does he do it? “I want to see the organization grow. We don’t have enough people that are truly dedicated. And. if I don’t put in time, who’s going to do it?” he says.
A woman who wished not to be identified, Alexandra, is a day laborer who lives in Cleveland. She’s experienced first-hand the disrespect, humiliation, and sexual harassment of temp agencies.
“Men at the temp agencies and at the companies I’ve gone to say that if I go to bed with them or perform sexual favors, I’ll have a guaranteed ‘return’ ticket, meaning I can come back to the job. If I can find other women to do these things too, that’s an extra plus for me. I see ex-prostitutes and women on drugs and alcohol who are the main targets of sexual harassment. It upsets me because they are already hurting in their life and then they are being hurt some more by the employment agency. Women’s rights are being violated every day.”
And it’s not just women’s rights, but people’s rights. “Nobody wants to be humiliated. Nobody wants to be hollered at. When you don’t show up every day at the temp agency, as a punishment they won’t send you out for three to four days. They want you to come there every day and just wait,” says the woman.
“The working conditions at some companies we are sent to are filthy. One company had the bathroom and kitchen combined into one area, things littered all over the floor that you could trip and fall over. I told Minute Men about it, and they told me not to go back if I didn’t want to, and didn’t stand by me because they didn’t want to risk losing their contract.”
She heard about DLOC from a friend and wasn’t really interested at first. Then she saw they were really trying to do things and make a difference. “A lot of people are afraid to get involved, but I’m not. I’m trying to go against the temp agencies full-fledged, but I am still working for them, so once they know I am with DLOC they won’t send me out. But you have to sacrifice some things. I don’t want to be treated unfairly. I don’t have to be quiet. I am not afraid of their tactics and I know I always have legal recourse.”
Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published July 2004 Issue 65B