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.
“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.
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.
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.