For the first time, the largest national assembly of immigrant day laborers is meeting in Los Angeles, but participants seem more interested in discussing immigration issues than organizing.
Every year for the past 10 years, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network has convened labor organizers and low-wage workers from around the country to discuss strategy and networking.
But the intersection of policy and personal experience appears to dominate this year’s meeting.
House painter Alfredo Lopez lives in Freehold, New Jersey. There, he makes $10 an hour. He says he’s in L.A. to learn how he can best deal with local police when they ask for his papers.
“We don’t have a choice but to do this kind of work,” says the Oaxaca native. “Only those who are here legally, who speak English, and who have better skills stay out of the streets and get better jobs.”
Right now, Lopez adds, there isn’t much work anyway. It’s likely to stay that way until April, when the weather warms up.
Marcos Cardenas is originally from Mexico and represents the VOZ Workers Rights Education Project in Portland, Oregon. The 30 year-old day laborer said he was making around $25 an hour in 2005 and had expected to have a house or at least a decent car by now... but seven years later he struggles to make $10 an hour for carpentry work.
"There's dignity in work," Cardenas explained. "People should be allowed to make a living, here and everywhere. It shouldn't even be considered a threat for a community because it's also service. You're helping your community."
For the next few days, he will join Lopez and more than 200 Mexican and Central American men attending the series of workshops.
On the final day of the conference, they’ll march. Day labor organizers expect hundreds outside the L.A. County Hall of Administration to protest the way local agencies enforce federal immigration laws.
This story has been updated.