GRATON – On Sept. 5, the Graton Day Labor Center celebrated its second year open as an official worker center, and its fifth year of organizing day laborers. The project represents a national model for what communities can do when integrative, patient and strategic steps are taken to tackle local issues.
Our center has been the result of not only dedicated and passionate volunteerism from its inception, but also a consensus process that brought more than 50 local stakeholders to the same table for over a year.
In these meetings, facilitated by the North Bay Community Consensus Project, every angle of the issue surrounding day laborers was given attention, local residents voicing their concerns, the sheriff, local businesses, the workers themselves and local organizers often in heated but mediated dialogues.
The final product was the idea of opening a day labor center off of the main drag in Graton and a Consensus Implementation Committee to provide accountability and follow up. More importantly though, the consensus process provided an alternative to the loud and unproductive debate that is taking place in communities across our country, showing that varying self-interests can find common cause and reach agreement when focused on common goals.
Graton, and west Sonoma County, should applaud themselves.
After opening our center, we discovered that through the process of organizing we have all found family. Places are few in our society where one is welcomed daily, where one has their voice respected personally as well as through democratic avenues, and where the means and opportunity to progress is directly in front of them.
The center walks a fine line between providing necessary services (such as on-site health consultations, daily English classes, occupational health and safety training, job training and wage claims) and organizing around common needs (such as promoting health, human rights education, leadership development, civic participation and volunteerism).
Though times and circumstances are challenging, we keep our mental health playing sports, music and chess, promoting culture and, of course, with frequent celebrating. What we have accomplished has taken patience, understanding and even conflict, but without a doubt, beautiful things happen on a daily basis within the center.
Employers who hire from our center have given us overwhelmingly positive feedback regarding the benefits we offer. A large part of how we gauge the work ethic of our members is by the feedback cards that are voluntarily turned in by the employers at the end of the job.
Employers aren't even required to come to the center; they may call in advance to establish their on-the-job needs (certain skills, English, etc.) and reserve workers or ask them to show up at the job site.
These employers who use our center support a community process that has been developed over several years by local residents and merchants, county officials and the workers themselves. Workers understand their responsibility when they make the choice to come to the center, and they take pride in being part of a greater community vision.
As you can see, the day labor center has become much more than a hiring hall; it is a place where we collectively become active, taking responsibility for the betterment of our lives and our communities.