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Representative says plan to build city-run farm workers facility would ‘punish' labor contractors

May 23, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

CALEXICO — A man representing a local farm labor contractor said the City Council's plan to build a facility that would bring border-crossing job-seekers together into one area could "punish" labor contractors.

Erasamo Gonzalez said as the system works now, contractors such as his employer, E-Z Labor Harvesting of Brawley, arrange pickup locations at different spots along Imperial Avenue. Workers who have a relationship with a specific contractor know where to go and when to be there.

Under a proposed new setup the council floated recently, contractors would be required to pick up workers at a city-run facility between Fourth and Fifth streets near the railroad tracks. That facility would feature parking for buses, restrooms and shade structures.

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Gonzalez said such a facility could provoke disputes among rival contractors under pressure to fill their quota of workers on a given day.

Other farm labor contractors are worried that the facility would be a rallying point for union organizers.

During a recent council meeting, Gonzalez asked for the councilmen to put their heads together with the city's various contractors before any facility is built.

"We're willing to work with you. How can we help you guys?" he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Frank Montoya, the council member who recently proposed building a facility for workers, told Gonzalez, "This is what it's all about. We have to talk about it and come to a solution."

Montoya vowed to take the concerns of the city's labor contractors into consideration before anything is built.

Earlier during the discussion of the new facility, Montoya said he anticipated some negative reactions.

"There will be opposition but we have to start somewhere," he said.

Last week Montoya talked to former Mayor Arturo Rioseco and city Public Works Director Mariano Martinez.

After the conversations, Montoya said he became more confident Calexico would qualify for state funds to build a farm worker facility. He said the city has the space to build such a facility.

Montoya said Martinez told him there are sewer and water hook-ups available at the potential site near the railroad.

Some members of the Calexico Chamber of Commerce endorse the plan for such a facility because they say some migrant workers loiter downtown, hindering sales, relieving themselves on private property and leaving the areas they inhabit strewn with litter.

Steve Scaroni of Valley Harvesting and Packing of Heber said he and his big-time competitors, E-Z Labor Harvesting and Sierra Packing of Holtville, all follow the rules set forth by the city. The companies provide portable restrooms for their employees and broker deals with landowners for space to park their buses in the morning.

Scaroni said Wednesday, "The problem is you have 25 people that aren't playing by the rules. For every one that is, you have three that aren't."

The "ones that aren't" are smaller car-pool operations or companies with one or two buses. In contrast, the big contractors employ fleets of 20-28 buses, depending on the season.

In the next few weeks, on direction from the council, City Manager Richard Inman will meet with staffers to figure out which grants the city can pursue for a facility.

Scaroni said he hopes input from the big area contractors is considered before any concrete plan is approved.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or aclaverie@aol.com

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