Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=101907
Story Retrieval Date: 6/20/2013 4:37:12 AM CST
The police officer entered the gas station quickly Thursday morning.
“If any of you are in here waiting for work, get out of here now or I’ll lock you up,” he shouted.
He repeated his orders in Spanish.
Just another day at the station on the corner of Milwaukee and Belmont Avenue.
Dozens of workers line the gas station’s perimeter each day, hoping a contractor pulls over to offer work at a decent wage.
Workers say Chicago police officers have made a habit of patrolling the station’s property, making sure workers are not near the gas station pumps.
Eric Rodriguez checks on the street corner workers every morning.
Rodriguez is executive vice president of the Latino Union of Chicago, which works to empower low-income immigrants through education and training.
He says he spends countless hours listening to workers’ concerns and finding ways to improve their condition.
The station at Milwaukee and Belmont is one of several spots that workers use to find jobs. Others wait near Home Depots or other places in the city that contractors visit.
Rodriguez said the practice of street corner hiring has been in place for dozens of years.
“Before it was Latinos in Albany Park, it was the Jewish community trying to find jobs,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said there have been numerous incidents with Chicago police in which workers have been harassed for no reason.
Workers said Thursday morning was no exception.
Attempts to contact police officials for this story were unsuccessful; someone who answered the phone said spokesmen were too busy to respond to questions. Also, attempts to reach the owner of the gas station were unsuccessful.
Workers like Toño Muñoz, who emigrated from Mexico eight years ago, say the unfair treatment must stop.
“You go day by day ... and you start to get really nervous when the end of the month comes,” Muñoz said. “It is even worse when you have a family.”
Muñoz, 34, uses business cards that list his work skills and contact information in English and Spanish. It is a step many of his fellow day laborers are not in a position to take.
“People are more careful around immigrants now because they don’t know who you are,” Muñoz said. “I have a family. I have rent, too. I am just like you."
Alex Hernández, 28, lives alone and said he no longer sees a future in Chicago. He left Guatemala 10 years ago to come to the United States for a better life. He said he tries to make $100 a day, but many times doesn’t even come close.
“The money is bad, I ... want to work but it is hard because my English is not good,” he said. “I want to explain [to contractors] the details of my work but it is ... difficult because I cannot explain it.”
Hernández tries to improve his English every day by watching television and reading newspapers. He said he hopes if he speaks more English, he will increase his daily work chances.
“If you do not speak good English, you will be abused more, because [contractors] know you cannot speak good,” said Hernández, who said he has not worked since last week. “I want to communicate to them that I am a good worker.”
Workers congregate on several Chicago area street corners as early as 6 a.m. to wait for work. It helps if a worker is first to the window of a car that has pulled over, but there are no guarantees.
David Rios knows firsthand how much luck plays a role in who gets work from the street corner. He happened to be in the right place when a Range Rover pulled into the Shell station a few years back and a Skokie man needed workers to help him fill some cement.
“That was one of my biggest paydays,” he said.
In four years on the corner, Rios said he has seen it all. But one thing that the Logan Square resident said hasn’t changed is the harassment of workers by Chicago police.
“You can’t take advantage of your badge,” he said. “People are just trying to make it out here.”
Latino Union worker Eric Rodriguez helped translate some interviews.