Raising the Bar on Treatment of Day Laborers

by Tammy Antonille

    According to Sarah Garver, the new Executive Director of the Community Hiring Hall in Cleveland, the Hiring Hall will be completely functional by the first of October with a grand opening later in the year. She has been a part of the Hiring Hall project since it was conceived by community activists from NEOCH. Garver served as a board member of the Day Laborers Organizing Committee and served on the board as the project moved into the pilot stage. During the pilot stage the Rev. Tony Minor was charged with the task of getting the project on its feet. He was responsible for writing many of the grants that were recently awarded to in fact make the project a reality.

   The program was able to hire Rev. Minor because of a grant given by the AFL-CIO and the United Labor Agency in 2003. During the pilot stage Sarah went on to serve as the Board Chairperson until she accepted the job as the Executive Director. She says the overall goal remains the same as it was since the activists began organizing day laborers in November 2000.

   That goal is to create an organization that can be utilized by the Day Laborers in lieu of the current Temporary Companies, that, according to many workers, have abusive practices and standards. But Sarah Garver takes the goal even one step further, “I want to make real structural changes that will make the other temporary agencies and hiring halls treat workers with respect and pay a decent wage.” To Sarah it is not just about creating an agency to give the day laborers another option, it is about elevating and influencing the entire community. She wants to make an impact on pulling people out of poverty.

   When the pilot was completed the organization placed an average of 6 people during the week and had put 8-10 people in permanent jobs. But the pilot also uncovered some issues that slightly redefined the way the new Hiring Hall will operate.

   One goal was to pay the day laborers a minimum wage of $9.25 an hour. Many employers shared feedback that they were currently paying only $8 an hour to the agencies they were currently using. Originally the Hiring Hall had estimated that the employers were paying fees to the temporary agencies. They found out through the process that most of the fees the agencies collected were coming directly from the worker’s pockets. The fees that the agencies charge workers include check cashing fees and charges for safety equipment. Workers report that many of the for profit temporary labor companies employ unfair practices such as putting their overtime pay in separate checks so that it disappears.

   “Being a non-profit is part of the key to our success,” Garver states. But the Hiring Hall still need to recoup some kind of expense to keep the project running. In light of the employer’s feedback, the CCHH had to lower their minimum pay expectations to $8 dollars an hour. Still, Garver expects that once a marketing program is in place to present to Cleveland area employers and word spreads on the benefits of using the CCHH, the hourly wage will rise. She admits it will be difficult to persuade employers when you are just talking dollars but she is convinced that when the employers look into the other benefits, such as better prepared workers with positive attitudes, the CCHH will gain their confidence.

   The CCHH is enjoying significant support from organized labor with unions either putting the CCHH and its services into their bargaining contracts or directly recommending the project where they have strong relationships with employers. The AFL-CIO, the Hotel and Restaurant Union and the United Labor Agency are among those who have provided significant assistance.

    Community organizations have also volunteered their time and support, among the groups represented on the board of the CCHH is the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, NEOCH and the Catholic Commission on Community Action.

   Sarah Garver has a passion for her mission and the support of key community and labor organizations. If she can meet the challenge of convincing the employers to use the CCHH, the Greater Cleveland will have a tool to return more money and hopefully employment security to its workforce. The Hiring Hall will be looking for public and private support to assure long term success.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue #66 September-October 2004 Cleveland, Ohio