Near the entrance to the UHAUL store that Howard Maxwell has managed for more five months, protesters shouted “Get him out!”
Maxwell, they alleged, has created a job list and favors some over others.
“He tells us the police are going to come and arrest us,” one worker said. “He buys slices of pizza and carne asada for the workers he likes—only four or five of them. He has favorites.”
Another worker added, “If we don’t agree with him, we can’t get work. We are afraid because if you talk bad about him, you won’t get work. He only likes you if you suck up to him.” Most of those who spoke to the press asked for anonymity or to go by first names.
Most of the workers, however, stayed away from the protesters. When asked why more weren’t participating in the protest, they said the manager has intimidated them.
Maxwell watched the protesters for about 30 minutes and then went back inside the store near near Bryant and Alameda streets.
The rally, led by the San Francisco Day Labor Program, was called on behalf of the day laborers who work there.
The day laborers rely on UHAUL customers who need help lifting or moving.
“Boycott UHAUL, Boycott UHAUL!” the crowd of about 100 protesters continued, followed by a show of cheers from some in the crowd who said they who have stopped using UHAUL storage in protest. Other customers continued to come in to rent moving trucks.
The protest began at 10 a.m. and ended at 11:30 a.m. Jose, a worker who has picked up work at UHAUL for the past two years, quietly entered the sign-holding mass. A few other regular laborers stood across the street.
A 32-year-old worker who was served with a permanent restraining order on Wednesday, stood at the front of the store with a megaphone. The order, served by the manager, bars him from any area 50 feet from the store for three years.
He declined to give his name, but said that when the manager served the first, temporary restraining order against him about a month ago, it was because he had objected to the the method the manager used to control the workers.
“He treats us very unjustly,” he said. “Many times he sent other people out to work and laughed at me, rubbing it in my face.” He added that the manager once held his wallet in front of him in mockery.
He approached Renee Saucedo about three weeks ago for help, he said, and now she is working to appeal the restraining order. Police, who remained off to the side, allowed him to remain on the site despite the order.
Hillary Ronen, staff attorney for La Raza Centro Legal, had been trying to solve the conflict between the day laborers and Maxwell for several months before the incident with the one day laborer.
“We’ve learned that he doesn’t respect the workers,” she said. “So we want to get rid of him.”
Ronen said she and the manager met with the Mission police captain and came up with an agreement: the workers would stand in a line on the other side of the street and the first to come would be the first to work. But, there was a problem: the workers didn’t like the new system.
“They just want to be able to stand on the street corner and look for work as they did before,” she said. “But the manager wants to control the situation. He wants to organize it and create the system that’s most beneficial to him.”
On Thursday, Maxwell said he likes the list for “selfish reasons”—he makes more money because his trucks come back quicker, he said. But many of the day laborers said they have gotten less work since the new system started.
Ronen said it’s the workers’ first amendment right to look for work as they please and it’s legal for them to be on public property, but that the workers who vocally disagree with his policies are being punished.
She said the police captain agreed the laborers have the right to look for work on that sidewalk. But workers said the police disrupt their ability to make money.
“All we want is to work and the manager keeps calling the police. When the police come, they tell us we can’t be here and expel us,” said Jose.
“I’ll have to find other work. This man has blocked me from where I work and told lies,” said the worker with the restraining order. One of these lies, he said, is that the men are able to use the bathroom. On Thursday, Maxwell told Mission Loc@l he had opened up the bathroom for all workers on the list.
“In this economy the need for work is more intense than ever and all they want is to have a chance to earn a living and feed their families,” said Ronen. “And this manager has made their lives miserable.”