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Seventeen day laborers stood across the street from the UHAUL on Bryant and Alameda streets Thursday, waiting for work in the cold. At noon, they lit up charcoal on a small barbecue grill and began preparing a collective carne asada. Some passed a 40-ounce bottle of beer around, taking sips to stay warm and pass the time.

Over the last couple of years, the men have developed a co-dependent relationship with UHAUL.  Its customers often need an extra pair of hands and the day laborers need the work. Up until the arrival of Manager Howard Maxwell last September, it was an arrangement that generally worked for both parties.

But a month after Maxwell began, he told Mission Loc@l he was cleaning the area up. For the day laborers, that meant the store’s bathroom became off-limits and police started showing up more frequently, they said.

The conflict escalated after Maxwell decided to implement a small-scale day labor program in which he asked workers to sign up on a clipboard for work.  UHAUL then became the intermediary between its customers and the day laborers by calling the men off  the list.

A day laborer holds the list. They wait for work.

“This practice has pitted workers against each other and many no longer get work,” said Renee Saucedo, a lawyer with the San Francisco Day Labor Program. “There are some that get special treatment by the manager that get on this work list but the vast majority don’t.”

Saucedo has called for a rally today at 10 a.m. across the street from the UHAUL. Her group is demanding an end to the  work list and an end to police harassment of the laborers. It’s unclear how many of the day laborers will participate, but several said they plan to go about their work.

The day laborers keep a copy of the list on their own plastic clipboard. And at noon on Thursday, few of the 17 names names had been checked off.

Maxwell said Thursday that when he made the list, he was trying to bring order to the “mess” and “unfair” process that existed.

One day, he said,  he told the workers, “those who want to be on the list, come with me.” A group of 26 men started signing up on the list  as they arrived for work each day. He said the new system is fair because it gives everyone a chance to work.

Maxwell said he has “selfish reasons” for liking the new system. “My trucks come back much faster and I make more money.” He added that he has recently started allowing the day laborers on the list to use the UHAUL bathrooms and that he sometimes buys them pizza or gives them money.

But several day laborers said that since the list took effect, morale has diminished. One energetic, young worker, Chris, said he prefers being able to negotiate, to hustle, and to introduce himself to potential customers, rather than rely on a formal list.

He excused himself several times Thursday to approach store customers with his business cards — yellow post-it notes on which he writes his name and number by hand. He said the interaction allows him to build a client-base and be more independent.

Nevertheless,  he normally signs up for the list, and when he seeks work on his own, he said,  he does so respectfully by staying away from the area directly across the street from the store and catching customers from a more removed part of the sidewalk.

Two workers.

Most of the day laborers at the site said while they don’t totally oppose the list, they don’t think it’s fair.

“The list needs to rotate,” said a worker who preferred to remain anonymous. He said that to get work, they have to arrive at dawn because its a system of first to arrive, first to work. He said he and several other workers have resorted to sleeping on the sidewalk across the street from the store so they can get their names up first.

The ideal list, he said, would move those names that didn’t get called to the top. Then there would be no need to sleep on the street to get work the next day.

One day laborer comes all the way from Redwood City, but he said he sometimes can’t get any work. The other men help him out by giving them their spot on the list because he comes from far away, he said.

Another worker who said he’s been around to see three different managers come and go, said since the sign-up sheet began, there’s also been a lot less work. He said he used to work three jobs a day and now he sometimes goes days without work.  This week, he said, he failed to get called on Wednesday.

In addition to the citing problems with the list, Saucedo, with the Day Labor Program, said Maxwell has been calling the police to forcibly remove the workers from the sidewalk.

Maxwell said the reason for the police presence was the fault of one day laborer who didn’t want to obey the list and who allegedly harassed store employees.

The UHAUL building on Bryant and Alameda.

A few weeks ago, the manager served the worker a restraining order. Maxwell said the man failed to obey the order, and Maxwell was forced to call the police when he showed up on the property multiple times. On Wednesday the man received a permanent restraining order, said Maxwell.

“It was a personal thing between the manager and that guy,” said Chris. But it became a bigger issue involving the other workers when the police began appearing almost every day, he said. He added that the police would tell them to move to the other side of the street.  The police presence scared the day laborers.

“Why did something personal have to involve all of us? We are just trying to do our job here,” said Chris.

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9 Comments

  1. The list sounds unfair, but I think an increased police presence is actually called for. I have been harassed in that area many times by drunk day laborers to the point where I walk out of my way to avoid the area. Most of the laborers are fine and respectful. But there seems to be few consequences for those that enjoy intimidating passers-by.

  2. thanks for the story!
    couple questions: is there less work in general (according to one of the workers’ words) now since the sign-up list started and why? do the same workers from the top of the list get more jobs?
    how many day laborers hang out in front of UHAUL usually?

  3. I work Across the street and overall I support Day Workers, but it does cause a ‘Mess’ and often times creates an unfavorable crowd. I have to walk by a group of lewd men daily and often catch them peeing on and around the buildings and streets. They also create a lot of trash, that makes the already smelly, graffiti street even worse. I really wish there is a way to control the crowd that grows there.

  4. Passing around beer. Well, that is just wonderful for the women who have to walk in that neighborhood. That atmosphere encourages criminality and street harassment of women. I thought leftists supported the right of women to walk freely on the street. There is nothing for the left to support here. Desperate latinos undercutting the wages of native born and greedy people setting minorities against each other. An appalling situation for people who have to put up with such public disorder.

  5. There is no reason for them to be there. Thank the sanctuary laws of the city for that mess. The people of sanfrancisco complain while the rest of the country laughs. You made your bed…….

  6. for the people who say they have no reason to be there… THEY ARE DAY LABORERS, this is how they make their money. get your head out of your ass

  7. Really? A manager says “here’s a sign up list” to make getting jobs more orderly and people complain? Should this even be an issue? Isn’t a list better than people clamoring and yelling at potential customers? If I want to hire a day laborer do I really want to deal with 20 people or can I just look at the list to see who is up? Is it really that hard to get there in the morning when the manager arrives? Maybe, as the article already suggests, when these guys are sitting around drinking beer all afternoon, of course they’re going to have trouble waking up in the morning. Why would you even want to hire help like this? Quit being cheap and just hire a moving company who also hires undocumented workers to do the work you’re too lazy to do. This way, at least you have a contract for the work to be done rather than deal with cry babies who whine about a list. What next, a riot at your local bakery because they asked you to take a number?

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