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Dallas to Launch Two Mobile Centers for Day Workers

The city’s pilot program will start this month to help day workers register for work, receive skills training and help ensure that workers get paid accurately by contractors when the job is finished.

Day labor Outreach Coordinator Alberto Ponce (center) speaks to day laborers
Day labor Outreach Coordinator Alberto Ponce (center) speaks to day laborers as they for jobs on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, at the gas station.
(Shafkat Anowar/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)
José Antonio Cantarero recalls one of the times he worked as a day laborer only to be ripped off — never getting a dime after completing the job.

“One time, a guy named Martin came and picked me up from here to help him with a roofing job in a new apartment complex in Oklahoma,” said Cantarero, 62, from Honduras. “We worked there for a week, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.”

“He never paid me.”

“Siempre es lo mismo,” Cantarero said, his dark eyebrows furrowed. It’s always the same. Around him, his fellow laborers nodded.

Cantarero is one of many people, mostly migrants, who gather at points around town known to them and to the crew bosses who hire them to do all kinds of work. In this case, before dawn workers of various ages and nationalities gathered at a North Dallas, Texas, gas station, ready to strike quick deals for cash to paint kitchens, repair pipes, install windows and clean offices.

They are paid on a per-job basis, but workers are sometimes short changed or not paid at all when the work is finished.

That’s why the City of Dallas and Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas, a quasi-governmental and non-profit organization that helps employers find qualified candidates, have joined forces to develop a pilot program to launch in October where, in all likelihood, workers will be able to register with the city and get assistance as they engage with contractors at two mobile centers.

The city has allocated $432,000 for the project, which would have a coordinator and two repaired mobile units, according to City Council Member Jesse Moreno, who has been working with the two entities to promote and get funding for the initiative.

“I pushed for this because I wanted to ensure that those individuals that were seeking employment have a safe environment,” Moreno said.

Tackling Worker’s Needs

For six months, Alberto Ponce, outreach coordinator for the labor center initiative, has visited spots where workers are hired, engaging in conversations to pinpoint their needs and conveying his findings to city officials. On Sept.14, he approached workers at the Valero gas station along Esperanza Rd.

“Buenos días señores, I am with the City of Dallas. Don’t be afraid. I am here just to share some information about a project the city is working on,” he said softly in Spanish.

Ponce explained the center and asked them what they would like to see in it.

The workers listened attentively and began to share stories about wage theft, how the gas station manager kept asking them to leave, the lack of access to restrooms, the communication barriers between them and the contractors, and how hard it was to stand in the brutal summer heat.

The crew was a mix of younger and older men. Some had been in the U.S. for years, others arrived recently, like Olvi Bustillos, 28, who came from Honduras about a year ago.

“A friend told me that this was the spot to get a job, and since then, I come here every day,” said Bustillos. “Last month, I did a painting job and was supposed to get paid $1,200 at the end of the week. On Friday, the contractor didn’t show up to pick me up, and that’s when I knew that he wouldn’t pay me.”

“What made it even worse was having to explain to my wife that I wouldn’t be bringing home any money that week,” Bustillos said while standing on the corner, clutching a red lunchbox.

Plano’s Successful Center

Ponce also studied the Plano Day Labor Center, with the goal of mirroring the system it has had since it opened its doors in 1994. Joe Rodriguez, the day labor center’s supervisor, said what has kept the center running for years is staying true to its sole mission: To provide a safe place for informal transactions.

The city runs the center with three full-time employees Monday through Saturday. Workers, who must be at least 16 years old, register in order to look for a job. They list their skills so that if a contractor is looking for someone with a specific skill, they can be called to the job based on their abilities and a lottery system.

The center requires workers to provide an address and emergency contact number, but it is not shared with any other agency or city department. Workers do not ask for immigration status or demographic information.

The center is across from DART’s Parker Road Station, located at Archerwood St. The city knew from surveys that many workers didn’t own cars, said Shanett Eaden with the City of Plano.

Anywhere from 100 to 120 workers show up each morning. While they wait for a contractor, they listen to music and play cards on benches protected from bad weather. They also have ceiling fans and heaters. Restrooms and phone charging stations are available.

Center staff observe when a contractor and worker agree to a job. While they don’t get involved in pay negotiations, the center staff does briefly go over the details just to make sure both parties are on the same page.

Pilot Program

The Plano model has proven to be an inspiration for Dallas. But while Plano has a central building, “We also looked at the opportunity for a mobile unit to establish a model,” said Joyce Williams, director of the Small Business Center.

Older Dallas Police mobile units are being converted for the movable centers, which will be located in areas already frequented by the workers, such as Esperanza Road and US 75 in North Dallas, Webb Chapel Rd and Lombardy Ln in the Bachman Lake area, in Vickery Meadow and at N. Marsalis Ave. and 8th Street in North Oak Cliff.

The units will also provide training by the Regional Hispanic Contractors Association and the Regional Black Contractors Association so laborers waiting for a job can learn a new skill, said Council Member Moreno.

The department also plans to look into working with private and nonprofit organizations to provide safety equipment, such as gloves and boots, said Williams.

The hours of operation and dates for when the units would be available have yet to be determined.

But Ponce said he is ready to welcome workers and help them to secure jobs where they can get paid fairly.

When a contractor picked up a worker at the Valero station in North Dallas, Ponce waved and said in Spanish, “Dios los bendiga, que tengan un buen día.” God bless you, have a nice day.

©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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