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City should cut day-labor losses

The fact that Portland already has wasted $200,000 to launch a day-labor center is insufficient reason to keep spending good money on a flawed concept.

It's time that the city admit its mistake and pull the plug on this failed experiment.

Mayor Tom Potter led the drive to create a center where day laborers could seek work in a controlled, organized fashion. The idea was to get them off street corners in Northeast Portland, where they had been gathering to solicit work - and where they had become a nuisance for businesses.

It was with the best of intentions that city officials and the Voz Workers' Rights Education Project devised a publicly funded solution to this particular social problem. But city leaders should have realized that there are some patterns of behavior that government is incapable of controlling.

Day laborers have been congregating at curbside for years because they and the people who hire them had devised their own street-savvy capitalistic system. Trying to put a bureaucratic overlay on that system was doomed to fail from the start.

So here we are five weeks into the experiment and what is the result? As reported in the July 24 Portland Tribune, potential employers aren't using the day-labor center as much as expected.

Workers are frustrated by the lack of jobs and have marched back to the street corners to make themselves available for work. Local businesses once again are inconvenienced by the crowds outside their doors.

And the city is $200,000 poorer.

The mayor and City Council can continue to pour money into the project, or they can learn from this mistake and look for less costly approaches, including passage of constitutionally sound ordinances that give police better enforcement tools over loiterers.

Portlanders don't expect their city government to create employment agencies for temporary workers. We warned in this space a year ago that it could become a costly, controversial quagmire.

And indeed, the center already has cost a bundle, but there's still time for city leaders to act responsibly and limit the financial damage.