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Labor site fills vital role

by: L.E. BASKOW, 
The day-labor center off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard has polarized Tribune readers. Some say the center assures safety and dignity for undocumented workers, while others say the site violates state and federal laws.

As a journalism student and Tribune reader, I am deeply troubled by your recent coverage of the day-labor center (Day-labor site falls down on the job, July 24).

I am a summer fellow with the Northwest Institute for Social Change currently working with two other students on a short documentary that situates the center within the national debate on immigration policy. Over the past few weeks I have come to know the center well.

I acknowledge that the center's system has flaws, but it hasn't even been open two months - it's far too soon to claim that it 'falls down on the job.'

The problems with Jennifer Anderson's article start with the picture printed on the front page. In it, the workers look as if they're attacking or carjacking someone, which perpetuates the (decidedly racist) stereotype of criminality among day laborers. Appealing to stereotypes rather than fairly assessing a situation is poor quality and unfair journalism.

More important, Ms. Anderson neglected to mention the crucial fact that day laborers who find work at the street corner are extremely vulnerable to abuse. They risk unscrupulous employers who subject them to unsafe conditions and often refuse to pay at the end of the day.

Such abuse is commonplace. Last year, three Portland day laborers were killed by unsafe working conditions.

Documented or not, workers have a right to safe conditions. The day-labor center's policy of taking employers' IDs assures workers' safety and dignity while providing a system that is more convenient to employers than negotiating at the street corner.

The fact that workers still stand at the corner does not make the center a failure. It is not the center's fault that there are not enough day jobs to go around. To close the center as your editorial suggests (City should cut day-labor losses, July 31) would further marginalize and endanger many members of the Portland community.

Emily Joan Smith

Southeast Portland

Day-labor employers motivated by greed

Regarding the letter 'Too soon to judge day-labor site' (Insight, Aug. 7), Kendall Taggart states that the day-labor site benefits the entire community and contractors. Please allow me, based on approximately 35 hours of observing this day-labor site, to correct you on your misconceptions.

The laborers at this site are primarily undocumented workers. The city of Portland and Voz, the nonprofit running the site, and almost all of the 'employers' utilizing this site are violating federal, state and local laws.

I have a lawsuit pending against Portland Mayor Tom Potter and Portland city Commissioners Randy Leonard and Dan Saltzman for violating the U.S. Constitution, federal immigration laws, state laws and their oaths of office by funding this site with tax dollars.

Most employers who utilize this site do not fill out the mandatory federal form I-9, which verifies the employee is allowed to legally be employed in this country. Most employers do not pay Social Security, workers' compensation or other employer taxes.

I had a legal employer stop and talk to me while I was photographing the day-labor site. He complained that he has to pay $20 per hour for his day laborers through Madden Industrial Employment Services. His competitors who utilize the illegal day-labor site only pay $8 to $10 per hour for day laborers. He wonders how long he can stay in business while following the law.

I had an American construction worker approach me at the site. He was very angry. He was just laid off from his construction job, yet his co-workers, all illegal immigrants, were not laid off. Are these the benefits to the 'entire community' you speak of?

There are eight pages in the Portland phone book of legal, private, temporary day-labor employment agencies. Why does Portland need to spend $200,000 of tax money to compete with these legal businesses?

Greed is the primary motivation for hiring these illegal immigrants. By hiring at this day-labor site, employers are undercutting the wage needs of American workers and insuring that the undocumented workers, who don't have the rights of Americans, remain second-class citizens in the eyes of the law. Is this a benefit to the 'entire community'?

If you are concerned about the safety of the day laborers standing on the corner, why not petition the City Council to pass a legal loitering ordinance and get those people off the corner? Why not call Immigration and Customs Enforcement and demand they get the illegal immigrants off the corner?

Please, come spend some time observing this day-labor site before reaching the conclusion that it benefits the entire community.

Tom Wenning

Southeast Portland

Addition of ethanol lowers gas mileage

I am a long way from Portland, although I do have family there. The article 'Who's guzzling gas?' (July 31) was about the increased number of riders on the TriMet light rail, but sales of gasoline in gallons have been increasing.

There is a reason for this: Since we are stuck with 10 percent ethanol mixed into the gasoline, my mileage - and everybody else's whom I talk to - is dropping like a rock. I have lost one mile per gallon in the past month since the ethanol has appeared in our gasoline.

Not only that, the ethanol is plugging fuel injectors and gumming up valves in the engine. Ethanol is costing us more - for less.

James Johanson

The Villages, Fla.

Driving style likely affects fuel figures

I live in Washington County and work in Multnomah County, and I drive a vehicle with a diesel engine.

Diesel is consistently 5 to 10 cents cheaper in Portland (and it has 5 percent biodiesel, which is good for engine life), so I've been filling up close to work lately. If a lot of people did this, it would explain how statewide consumption has dropped while Multomah County's has gone up (Who's guzzling gas?, July 31).

I also think you guys are off track with the ethanol thing. Ethanol contains about two-thirds the energy of gasoline. If you switched to a 100 percent ethanol fuel, you should expect about a 33 percent drop in fuel economy. At a 10 percent blend, the drop should be somewhere around 3 percent or about one-half of one mile-per-gallon in your 18 miles-per-gallon minivan. I'd bet that driving habits have more to do with the drop than anything else.

Justin A. Foote

Beaverton

Look locally to meet most of your needs

U-pick farms are a great family outing providing life lessons and treasured memories. It also may be the first time a child sees fruits and vegetables without stickers on them (Fuel hike has a silver lining, July 31).

It's good to see people looking to local sources for food and services; I'm now more apt to go to my neighborhood hardware store than make the trek to Southeast 82nd Avenue.

I look forward to more success stories from folks who find creative ways to meet needs locally.

Kelly Smith

Southeast Portland

Disabled deserve accommodations

Disabled people should pay a bit for parking (Parking tiff vexes disabled, July 31), but maybe if the vehicle has a disabled-access sticker they automatically get double the time shown on the sticker. If you are disabled, just getting in and out of a car eats up tons of extra time.

My dad suffered a heart attack that damaged one-third of his heart. He was still able to walk around, but was out of breath in less than a block. However, if you saw him park with his disabled sticker and get out of his car and start to walk, you'd have thought he didn't have a disability. Not all disabilities are obvious.

I hate those who abuse the stickers, but I'm all for giving the disabled as much accommodation as they need.

Michael C. Wagoner

Hillsboro