Manuel Rafael Gallegos Lerma

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The interview began with some background information about Manuel Rafael Gallegos Lerma and why he came to North Carolina. He talks about his interest in working with the Latino community in North Carolina because this population is growing and there are fewer resources compared to other cities in the United States. He then describes his current role as Associate Director of the Human Rights Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. He explains the early work of the Human Rights Center as well, describing their decision to work with the Abbey Court community and how the Center built trust through their tutoring program. He also discusses the oppression of the Abbey Court residents and the experiences that they have had with racism. He talks in depth about the prevalence of wage theft and how the occurrence of wage theft specifically affects undocumented immigrants working as day laborers. Lerma also describes the role that the Human Rights Center hopes to have in helping day laborers find employmen



Elizabeth Willis: This is Elizabeth Willis. I am interviewing Rafael Gallegos, Gallegos? It is March 23rd 2012. I am interviewing him about day laborers, salary theft and what the Human Rights Center is doing involv-- in the community. This is a part of the Immigrant Oral History Project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Okay, so, just to start off, if you could just tell me a little bit about yourself, where you're from, what brought you to Chapel Hill.
Rafael Gallegos: I am originally from Mexico. I came to North Carolina about 8 to 10 years ago, going to school. I've been in Chapel Hill for about 4 years now in the graduate program for Sociology and since I've moved here I've been very much interested in working with the Latino community, especially because, as we know in this part of the country we don't have a strong social agencies that provide help for Latinos so this is something that most organizations are trying to do, develop some sort of basic assistance that provide for them unlike places like California and Texas. So, you know, that was something that was interesting to me especially because the Latino population has been growing in this area. And so I began to work with Dr. Blau here in the sociology department. And, you know, we together realized the need for the help, especially after the Centro Latino closed about 3 years ago, which was primarily the only resource that most Latinos had in the community, so we began to think about what would those things that the Latino community needed right now so we began to work with the day labor community which is one of the most repressed communities in the area and from there we just learned what were some of the basic needs they had and sort of begin to work in more of an activist role to try to help them.
EW: And what part of Mexico are you from?
RG: Okay, sorry, I am from the north part of Mexico, Chihuahua
EW: Okay, and what brought you-- what-- did you want to come to North Carolina before you decided about which program or?
RG: No, I think, no we actually came here for schooling; I did my undergraduate program at NC State.
EW: Oh, awesome
RG: So, and I really liked North Carolina so I decided to stay and apply and so I got into UNC.
EW: Oh, that's great. And, so can you describe for me the work you are doing at the Human Rights Center, so what specifically your role is and you've taken on so far?
RG: I guess my current position is the Associate Director and basically what it is is trying-- well, my initial role was to be in the community, to work with some of the people in the Abbey Court community and try to develop connections with some of the people who have been in the community longer and some of the resources and what are some of the things we can do to help the people in the community. At first, I was primarily concentrated on working with the day labor population. I began to spend many days at the site to try to understand what were some of the needs that they had and what were some of the things I could do to help them. But then eventually we realized that, you know, given the resources that we had at the time, which were basically none with the Human Rights Center, we realized that to help the day labor population, you need to have more resources and develop more alliances within the community within the community because finding a job is much more different than providing someone with food, you know that's something you can gather yourself but you know to have, to provide someone with a job is a little more difficult, especially when it depends on the employers themselves. So, then, as the Center, we sort of began to focus on other aspects of social and economic justice. We began to work with the Abbey Court community specifically and then we eventually developed connections with one of the local elementary schools... it's Mary Scroggs?
EW: Oh, yeah
RG: And so what happened there is we began to work with one of the teachers who was doing outreach at Abbey Court already and so we thought about maybe developing a tutoring program. So, we work with this individual, Nancy, and after a few months we were able to allow the school to have kids come to the Center and have teachers come to the Center and have the tutoring at the Center, which was interesting because you are allowing you know teachers going into people's communities and do the teaching there as opposed to you know having that distance. So, the idea of having help in their community was pretty much the model that we wanted to try. Which, for the most part, if you think about most models, you know, most people have to go somewhere, you know, they don't come to you. So, we thought that was unique and we wanted to sort of follow this approach and see if we could do something at Abbey Court. One of the reasons why we felt Abbey Court was a community in which we could--we should-- do this was that Abbey Court was probably one of the most oppressed communities. At the time, I believe people, the management was towing people's cars and the excuse was that they were unsightly. You know, no one knew exactly what that meant but that was problematic. They had security guards who were extremely racist. In fact, they trespassed Judith and I one time. And so that was what really kind of fueled our interest in helping. So what happened after we were trespassed of course we couldn't go there anymore if we were not residents or were invited which, we were not. Then, Judith decided to look into the possibility of purchasing there. So, if you purchase than you have a reason to be there. So she did that and purchased E8 which was the initial place where the Human Rights Center sort of began. And, then, once we did that we had a place for kids to come and so that happened. But, you know, it was a one-bedroom apartment so the space was very limited. Nonetheless, it gave us the presence. So, then through this tutoring program families came to know us better and they learned to trust us as well and so what happened at the time was that, you know, this tutoring program sort of gave us the in into the community. So, if families trust you with their kids, they're going to trust you with other things. So, we developed ESL, LiNC came, MANO came, other, you know, computer classes and there were other organizations that no longer work with us but they are somewhere else that also started with us and they used us as a place where they could sort of develop their plans, you know, to find projects. We felt that was good, you know. So, we stayed there and people began to trust us. Eventually, we were able to gather more support and you know more people joined. We actually had a board. At the beginning it was just kind of Judith and I running like chickens without a head just, like, everywhere. You know, we're not social workers or we're not trained activists or community people. So, you know, sociology, we just kind of tried different things. So, eventually we sort of learned. We were trusted, first of all, and that gave us an in into the communities. Then, the school program was, I think, the key for us.
EW: Yeah
RG: After that, we began to contact town officials. We began to talk about the problems with wage theft. I would say about two or three years ago we went in front of the board of Carrboro and we told them the problem of wage theft. We told them how pervasive it is and we showed them some basic statistics that were provided by a national study that was conducted in 2004 and released in 2006. It was a national sample, so you can have a sense that, I think the stats mention that, I think, 3 out 4 day laborers have experienced wage theft in the last 2 months. Or, the 2 months prior to the research, which is very high.
EW: On a national level?
RG: On the national level. And, I think they went to over 200 to 300 sites. And I think they came to North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, so they did it throughout the nation. They know that most of these people are Latino, undocumented and many of them are not very educated. Many of them come from rural communities and they sort of come here with the idea of maybe learning. And this place was, you know, served as an environment where they can learn and learn social schools and connect with one another so they can find employers and get assistance. Because many of them when they come here, they don't have anything. Some of them, in fact, experience homelessness because they come here without knowing anyone. And so, going there to the corner, they do develop friendships. You might find out that someone is from your community of origin, so they might help you, clothe you, you know, the basic things until you are able to provide for your family. Many of them come here with debts, you know, from crossing the border. So, you know, they have to go somewhere to earn money. And many of them understand that this is a process that they go through. So, they are very much aware that when someone is new, you know, they have those problems or they have all that stuff behind them that they have to deal with. And so they-- I really like the fact that-- you know, it is a place where there is a lot of competition because of the way that the work, sort of, the way they get the jobs. But what was most interesting to me was the fact that, in spite of all of that, you have a group that was very much unified in the sense that they all know each other's hardships. You know, if you're an immigrant you know what you went through, you know what it meant to come to the States, you know what it means to be separated from your family, you know what it means to be hungry, to not have a job for months or for weeks. And so that sort of developed this unity, you know, where that would to an extent help them economically so that if some people didn't work for so many weeks or so many days someone might give their chance to work so they can go to work. And so those, you know, those events kind of, you know, were very touching for me because I wouldn't expect that to happen. Especially when the economy is so bad and things are very difficult but it does happen among them because they know their hardships. And that led for me to want to study them more and so I did my thesis on my experiences there and I've continued to do my research there because I think that, you know, we tend to illustrate these places as very negative, you know, crime rates are high, they drink, they are the scum of the earth because of the way-- because of the places the work and because of who they are. But in reality when you actually go there and begin to learn about them it is quite amazing the support they have for one another, which you wouldn't expect.
EW: And this is specifically the day laborers that are waiting for work?
RG: Yeah.
EW: Could you explain a little about kind of the dynamic there and what the situation of the day laborers is?
RG: Well, the situation is, I mean, this is a place where they go to seek employment and it is very precarious. I mean, there are no rules, regulations. I mean, pretty much anyone who goes there, goes there. I mean, there is no restriction on who is there. It is difficult because, you know, they are harassed by police sometimes. You have residents who drive by and they yell really racial, you know. Well, they are very abusive verbally to those who are there. I have been there when that has happened and it just kind of takes you back because what did they do to you to deserve anything like that? It is true that after you've spent time there like I did, if you spend there days at a time, you know, after so many days you sort of became self-conscious of being there so that when people look at you, you begin to be like, is there something wrong with me? So all that is there. For the most part when employers come in, you know, they kind of run towards the vehicle, they try to bargain as much as they can so they can have a better chance of a job. Sometimes there is some pushing and that sort of thing but the interesting thing is that people do get upset sometimes but not to the point that you'd expect. We're talking about people who have not had work for days or weeks and under those conditions you'd expect a lot more fighting and it doesn't happen like that. I mean, people get upset but not to the extent that you'd expect and I think that is very interesting. They are protecting one other. For instance, when they know of employers that don't pay, they will let each other know and then if you still decide to go, well, that's your problem but they will tell you. They don't trust the police because of the dynamics that unfolded there. They don't trust a lot of people who are outsiders because they have to protect themselves somehow and so they don't talk a lot of the things that go on until you are able to know them at the more deeper level. One of the amazing things that I also learned is that they have some sort of minimum wage and this is something that they themselves came up with. I mean, it was established years ago, 5 or 6 or 7 years ago. The idea is for everyone to charge ten dollars an hour which is much higher than the minimum wage at the time, right now. And the funny thing is that sort of emerged about 6 or 7 years ago and the reason this happened was because there was a lot of work at the time and so some people were trying to undercut each other. So, you know, the people who had been there longer they say, well, why would you do that? If we just charge one price, we all win and people have to hire us anyway. And so that kind of stayed. And even today if you go there and ask them, How much do you charge? They'll say, oh, ten dollars an hour. And they do it sort of to protect themselves because you know they don't know if they are going to work tomorrow or the day after and so this is something they can do and agree upon. And I mean, there are still people who go and work for less but they normally don't tell people. That's something they keep to themselves. Because if they do and people realize, they're not going to be happy. And there's been cases where people who have come from other places, let's say Raleigh. I know a story of this guy who was wearing a cardboard that said "I work for 8 dollars" and people asked him to leave. You don't do that. Charge ten, that's fine. But 8? You're hurting you, You're hurting us. It just, you are creating a bad precedent also for employers. So that's keep it this way. And that's something that I found was very interesting there. Whether it happens elsewhere, I'll have to look at that but it's very interesting that it happens under this environment. I would say that the site, the number of people visiting has decreased. About 4 years ago, I would say, it was not unusual to see about a hundred and twenty people. Now, I think the highest number you'd get is about 70, 40 for the most part. Mondays is the large population you'll find and then as the week progresses it kind of diminishes. But I would say that forty or fifty is more of the average and seventy is a high number right now. And it's interesting, I mean, sometimes they separate themselves according to nationality, area of origin, states or just even sometimes occupations. So that's one of the things that I've noticed. It's not that rigid. I mean, people go back and forth but they do have preference also many people they like more than others. As far as the local, the area, I mean, sometimes they have problems with the local convenience store. They don't want them on their sidewalks and ask them to leave so that's always an issue and the police coming to ask them to leave so that always creates some tension. Sometimes, I don't know if I mentioned it to you a bit about in 2007 there was an ordinance created and that limited the amount of time they could spend at this place. Under the ordinance they could spend only from five in the morning, I think, to eleven in the morning. After that, they were not allowed to. And so last year, we were able to repeal that ordinance and based it on the grounds that it was unconstitutional because people under the first amendment have the right to gather wherever they want, especially if they are looking for job, a job that is not criminal. I mean, they are not committing a crime; they are just looking for a job. And so under those grounds they found that and so Carrboro ended up removing the ordinance but they lawyers involved in this process were willing to go the legal system and do something to help them. Nowadays, because of that, we have to work very hard because as the weather's getting warmer, people tend to spend more time there. And when people spend more time there, there's more likeli-- there's also a higher probability that they will do something that people will not be happy with and that includes drinking and all the things that you can imagine. And it's kind of unfair because many of these people for the most part do not welcome to-- how do I say this? For instance, in Abbey Court, is right across the street from the corner, the history there has been that if people were to spend too much time outside their apartment at the building, they would be told that they were loitering and that they needed to move on. And so if you lived there, you don’t have this idea of just sitting outside and enjoying the weather. There is no such thing because they don't have a place for them to socialize. They just don't want people outside. And so that has been the norm. And so what happens is that people will tend to go elsewhere, meaning the corner. And so, you know, if you have had a rough week, if you know that your family or someone in your family back home is sick or someone mistreated you at work, I mean, those are triggers that are easily, that can easily kind of unfold into a two or three day drinking event for one of them or many of them because, you know, they have so many traumas that self-medicating is the cheapest and the easiest. So when that happens you have CE officials and local residents upset saying that they're drinking out there but the truth is that they're not drinking to inconvenience anyone. It's just that there is no other way for them to deal with what they are carrying. And so right now we have to work with them in trying to do something about it because police will matters into their own hands. The community may think of reinstalling this ordinance because the idea of it was to kind of maintain peace and order. And so if removing it creates issues, then it will be easier for them to reinstall it later. So that's something that we have to be aware of and we have to work. And so how can you tell this to them who are dealing with this? And they don't find any other way to deal with-- to stop doing it. Without providing any other type of assistance and without really helping them, it's going to be interesting. And I think difficult but you know.
EW: Do you the new location of the Human Rights Center at Barnes Street-- Do you think that it might be able to be a new location for people to go when they-- instead of staying on the corner and that kind of thing?
RG: I think-- that's our hope. I mean, for the most part, if you look at most of the research, I mean, there's always going to be a corner. Why? For many reasons, you know, if you are someone who has been in the States for a long time and you have skills that not many people have as an entrepreneur you would rather be at the corner because you can compete. You can be more successful competing because you have more skills, maybe tools and things that other people don't have while the Center would probably be a good place for those that are coming in who might need to develop skills, may need to make connections, may need to have education of some sort. I'm not saying that only new people will come but I'm saying that those will probably be more likely to be there because of what we can provide. Ideally, I think, or as time progresses, our goal will be that we will develop a model that is successful so that it provides jobs for people who would eventually gravitate towards our Center instead of the corner but, you know, as you know working for the Human Rights Center, one of the reasons also why we were fighting to remove this ordinance was because we felt that they needed to be there, they should be there. So the Center is going to be another location for them to find employment and if it works better we hope it'll help but if it doesn't we would be supportive of them being where they are because that's what they know. And that will be something that they will have to negotiate. But the Center will hopefully be able to provide education, advocacy, whether it's legal or maybe contacting the Department of Labor when something has happened. Or maybe also to provide Know Your Rights workshops or teach them how to use computers because having Skype and those new programs make it easier for them to communicate with the community so that would be free. We also provide free WiFi so they can get on and learn to use the computer or if they have a computer, they can also come and use it. And just to provide a social arena where they can go and just have someone to talk to and don't have to just be in their apartment because it's very isolating. I mean, if you're told that you need to be in your apartment twenty-four hours a day it gets to you because you think about your family, you think about the things you're missing and then makes an excuse to get beer and just forget about it and that sort of leads to other things. So we hope that we can provide some of the assistance that they need. And not just Abbey Court, I think that this might be a good thing also for us to, for other people to see that we're not just serving Abbey Court but also the larger community. We'll see how that unfolds but we're very hopeful.
EW: What are some of the legal issues that you're facing working with day laborers? So, in the sense that, how can you enforce the paying so that there isn't salary theft? And also about the day labor center and the kind of legal issues you're facing as far as helping them find work? Anything along those lines
RG: So we know that the Immigration Act of 1986, IRCA, basically prohibits contractors from employing people who are undocumented, knowingly contracting people who are undocumented. I don't think we're going to deal-- We don't have to worry about that because we're not contracting people, we're sort of the middle people. So we're not part of the agreement. So this is something between the worker and the employer. We just provide the venue for them to sort of come together. It may sound kind of crazy but all that we want to basically do is that this is going happen whether we're there or not so why not try to provide an environment where maybe provide more protections to the worker and maybe the employer. You know, if something happens and the employer isn't happy we maybe can find a way to mediate as opposed to--or vice versa. We hope that, I mean, my hope is that we eventually have a small place for a few law students to go there and do some work. This has been done in Michigan and I think that was very interesting because worker center was sort of developed with the idea of providing this legal assistance using the law school at Michigan. And so that is something I would like to do because I think it provides a lot of opportunities for some of the people studying, to go to a place and actually practice or at least provide some sort of advice. Even if it is not like a client attorney-- but just some assistance, like where to go, who to call. And then have that sort of like in the experience with people. Especially if you are interested in doing immigration or labor law. That would be my hope and we'll sort of work with the UNC law school to see if that's possible. But nonetheless we will continue to work with them. We use some of the faculty at the civil law clinic, immigration clinic. You know, we do-- we maintain-- we stay in close contact because many things arise and so they've always been able to help us and kind of guide us through some of the issues that we see in the community. But there are also these new task forces who are working to develop better labor law in North Carolina. So they are doing a qualitative, mostly qualitative interviews so that they can learn some of the things that are happening, how employers are stealing wages because there are different ways of doing this and employers are very good at it. For instance, one way most people don't consider wage theft is that when your house-- if you work in the housekeeping business, some of them are asked to pay for gasoline. They don't get any sort of documentation saying that they do this, but the employer takes it away. And the employer doesn't even claim this as something they're taking also. So, you know, these are wage theft we don't think about but happens very often. And then you have the underpayment that was mentioned by ( ) during the conference, the not giving you days off, all that is part of that. But there's so-- Because there are so many occupations that immigrants are now working in, the possibility of wage theft is just so great and so we are trying to work with them, especially with the civil lawyers at the law school, trying to develop a process where we can help, so if we learn about something we have a way to help. And maybe advice of some of the people at the HRC including me and David, which is another community worker there, we go to the small claims court and we have launched some law suits against employers but, you know, it's very disappointing because sometimes there's nothing they can do. So we can win, we win the cases but there's nothing we can do to force them to pay. They could maneuver the system and not pay. And so that's very detrimental because we go back to the corner and yeah, the worker says I won but he won nothing. So you don't get the money or you don't get the-- at least the feeling that okay, I got some of it back. So, you know, that's something that also we have to work toward addressing. It's an uphill battle but I think people are coming together and more resources are available which is positive.
EW: And what are some of the things that the Human Rights Center and maybe some of the civil and immigration attorneys are thinking about as far as how they can enforce the judgment so if they are judged against-- if they employers do have to pay, how are you guys thinking about going about enforcing that?
RG: So I think the idea is that through these interviews, they're going to learn some of the tactics that are being used out there and with that I think they're going to present them to the state legislature and try to improve the labor laws that we currently have so that wage theft would be something that would be part of it and it would provide some way for workers to have, you know, protection so that instead of thinking just about Carrboro or Chapel Hill to enact local ordinances that would criminalize wage theft, you think about the state. So, when you have that and you have more resources and using some of the state resources to go and eliminate this. I think it's going to take some time to change the culture but I think that with the legal in the backing, you have much more success. In fact, also we thought about using the local police just sort of to begin to have-- as I mentioned in class, so they know the pervasiveness of this. And I think it would also be another way of realizing that this is a bigger problem than they think. The reason why wage theft is so pervasive and people don't know much about or don't do much about it is because if you are a victim, you probably won't tell people because it's very stigmatizing. I mean, people will say like are you dumb? Why wouldn't you get paid? Well, because-- you know, then what do you say: Because I didn't get paid. And so many people at the corner, they won't tell you that they got robbed. It's only when you get to know them and the confidence that they say, you know what? Yeah, this happened to me and they didn't pay me for two months and I don't know what to do. And that's when you realize like, wow. And that's when we sort of-- that's how we began to realize, you know, the effects. Because you're not just stealing wages from this guy, you are limiting the entire family that he has to support from income. And so that's when it really becomes a big issue.
EW: So, could you tell me a little more about wage theft itself and what the impacts of it are on the community as a whole? So, like you said, you're impacting the entire family but-- so how long wages get stolen? So for like two weeks does someone not get paid, for two months or however long and--?
RG: Oh, it's been months sometimes. And the thing is that so what a lot of people do is that so they'll hire you and they'll pay you a week, two weeks, three weeks. And sometimes all these projects last four or five months. We're talking about big projects. Or sometimes they even are-- they go outside of the state and work in other projects for months. And so employers know the drill, they pay for two or three months. And then they say, okay, well you know, we are a little behind this work, let's work, let's keep working and they'll work you. And they continue to work because you know, they paid me before so why wouldn't they pay me again? And so then it happens where two, three, four, five weeks and they haven't gotten paid and the employer says, Oh, don't worry, I'll pay you all together, you know, once we're done with this and they'll pay me and we'll deal with that. And what happens is that at the end it doesn't happen and it's very sad because some people will say, you know, I didn't get paid for two or three months. And that happens often. Locally let's say-- you know this is construction, primarily. You have also the landscaping people who work also the season. You know, so now it's right before landscaping because everything's growing and they need to work so they begin to pay them. And when things kind of slow down, the employers get behind and again, they might not call them again, avoid calls, change numbers, change location of their offices. I mean, they get very creative. Then you also have the people who are very aggressive. I mean, there have been people that I've called and I say, you know what? You didn't pay this person. Maybe there was a misunderstanding? Can I help you with this? And some people would say, Boy, if you call me again, I'm going to beat you up. I was a former cop, I know how to find you, I'll make your life miserable. And I'm thinking--
EW: And those were to you? Directed toward you?
RG: Yeah, yeah. It happens. I mean, we sometimes-- How can anyone justify not paying somebody? I mean, you're threatening me now for something that you should've done. I mean, we shouldn't have this discussion; you should've just done the right thing. But they don't do it and they still get mad and they think that there are-- that this is their right because these people are undocumented and therefore they shouldn't pay them because they're doing illegally anyway, without dawning upon them that they hired them. You made this happen. It's not like they went to your house and forced you to work for you, you know? So you get that and sometimes it is very discouraging because this is what you're working against right now.
EW: And how many employers do you think do this on a normal basis?
RG: I mean, if you-- I think if we were to go to the corner and we were to ask most people there, I would say, in the last two months, I would say probably half of them have dealt with this.
EW: Half of them?
RG: Yeah. And, I mean, I'm being very conservative. I mean, because the average would be like, seventy-five percent.
EW: And so do the families-- How do you see the effects on the families as far as the wives and the children? Do they realize this stuff is going on?
RG: I don't think employers really concern themselves about that because many of them, many of the workers will tell me that for them it is very disheartening because they sort of-- it makes them question their humanity so that why do they choose not to pay me? Is there something wrong with me? I mean, I worked hard, I did what you asked me to do, but you still don't pay me. And that's very hard psychologically. I mean, when we talk about this and they mention this, you don't know what to say because there's no way you can explain this. And people say, maybe I'm just not worth it. And I think, Well, how can you not be worth it? You did the job you were asked to do. And you know, they would say, well, you know, my family, you know they-- and many of these men are maybe single so you're talking about families back home, parents who are sick or, you know, other issues that made them migrate in the first place. And they would say, you know, my kid hasn't had-- I haven't sent them money in a month. I don't know what they're eating. I don't know how my spouse is dealing with this and I feel bad and I'm just going to maybe grab a beer and just forget about it because there's nothing I can do. One of the toughest things , and I was trying to get at that in class but it's one of those very touchy topics, but many of them have-- when we talk, have mentioned to me that when you decide to migrate so, you know, things are not going well and you say I'm going to leave. I'm going to find a better job and I'm going to support my family. They do this for the right reason, because they want to provide. But they understand that once they leave, they are-- they are willing to take the risk of losing everything. You know, your family might be gone, your kids are going to grow up, your wife-- your spouse might find someone else because you've been in the States for five years and they've changed, kids change, they had needs, economic needs and other type of needs and you weren't there for them. And so you go back home sometimes and you know, you work all this, you work very hard, you go home and there's nothing there waiting for you. Perhaps both of your parents died and you couldn't go back and see them and maybe a relative's children or sibling had passed away and you couldn't go and they won't forgive you for that. Because they don't realize that you cannot just go back and forth, this is not like that. It's not that easy anymore. Many people would think that back in the day in the early 90s when people could come and go more easily but today is a very different issue. I mean, border patrol is much more-- is better funded so it's much more difficult. You have to deal with the drug trafficking which in many cases forced many of them to be used as mules to carry across drugs without their consent but if you don't do it, they'll kill you. Or say, you know what? I know where you live, I'll kill your family if you don't do it. So they have no choice. And then we see National Geographic showing these Border Wars where we see all these people running across the border with marijuana and they think that this is what they-- this was like the dream job, like this is what I want to do when I grow up. I'm just going to strap myself with marijuana and go across the border so I make a lot of money. It doesn't work like that. I mean, in reality it's very different and you hear them talk about this and it's very heartbreaking because how can you help them? After we learn a lot about it at the Human Rights Center, it's like, what do we do? I mean, this is way beyond anything that we can do but what can we do? And so we felt that if we can make sure, or do our best to make sure, that they get paid. That's the best thing that we can do. Before anything else, make sure that they get their money and maybe that makes their lives a little bit easier. So that's why we have been very much active on removing that ordinance which limited the amount of time they could be there, even though it might backfire on us but nonetheless they need to be there to find jobs. And also looking to address the wage theft issue because that also creates a lot of problems.
EW: You mentioned before the name shaming campaign, that kind of idea. Could you talk a little bit about that and what the idea is behind that?
RG: The idea is to collect names and perhaps have a tally of the times they've done this. The only problem with that is that and, you know, this is-- is that if we were to do this one of the initial results would be that they would not go there anymore and so what do we do? Now, I know that allowing for this to happen is not the right thing to do either but also eliminating that, I mean, at all, I mean, completely, I mean, what do you do? If we're not able to provide those jobs for them. So the idea would be to make sure that we develop a model with the workers' center that hopefully addresses some of those things. And if we're not able to address those things, maybe then we can do something like this and be more bold.
EW: Yeah, okay
RG: But, right now, one of the difficult things about working with this population or any population that lives under precarious conditions is that I want to help you but I don't want to do it in a way that is going to eventually harm you. And so you have the last word. Do you need my help or you don't need my help. And so that's what we-- that's the approach we have taken at the corner because we can go and make a shame campaign and we can name people and we can go to the town meetings and be very vocal against them but that is not going to eventually help them because if the employers choose not to go there, then we are going to be responsible for that. And maybe that's not what they wanted. And so, how do you work around this? It's very difficult.
EW: And, sorry. You've answered most of my questions in conversation so I'm trying to figure out if there's anything else that I wanted to ask. I wanted to ask a little bit about how the day laborers are feeling now that you guys have been very involved and you've been asking them about what's happening and you've been trying to find solutions. Do you think that there is a lift in morale? Do people feel better about it? Or is it not really changing until they see results or until they start getting paid?
RG: Well, I think that-- Well, the morale-- Huh, that's a good question, I never thought about it that way. Most people are very pessimistic. I mean, there's really no reason for them to ( ). I think that, as you mentioned, if there's a-- if they see that things are beginning to change so that we are able to work with the law school and beginning to have success by sham-- not shaming but in our pursuing employers and people actually being able to get money back, I think that would be probably the biggest thing that we could do to help ourselves and to help them see that there's a possibility of change. I think that after Carrboro rescinded that ordinance, I think there were a lot of positive feelings because they realized that for once they were not forgotten, that there was something positive that happened for them whether it was us or somebody else speaking on their behalf was there. I think it meant a lot for some of them. You still have a group of people that are not going to get involved because they're very skeptical of any of it because historically there was really no reason for them to be-- to have any sort of expectations but I think, you know, having success and getting some of their money back, being able to find employment for them or make those connections and them being able to provide for their families better. I think that would help a lot. But right now it's difficult because the economy is just not right for that.
EW: Have you seen maybe a change in how the community, the Carrboro and Chapel Hill community, perceive the day laborers now that you guys have been working more? So when you talk to people, do people know more about the issues? Especially since you have some of the day laborers speaking at conferences like the Human Rights Conference and to our class... so, like Beto being very involved.
RG: I think that there has been more exposure, that's for sure. I think that the Carrboro Citizen, I think, and the Daily Tarheel have done a lot of positive stories about day laborers and the HRC. So, that, I mean, I don't know everyone but I can imagine that that's positive. Two, three years ago, four years ago most of the media that covered Abbey Court was very negative. It was about you know, shooting happened or prostitution being rampant or drugs. I mean, the things that you unfortunately see in poor communities. But I think that after our involvement there, I think there's been a change because people are beginning to see the more positive side. I mean, it's always been there just they chose not to see it. And I think that goes a long way, for the community to see that. You know, there are families there living, I mean, there are kids. And so there's reason to be hopeful and especially to help. I mean, once you know there are kids and families I think people tend to be a little more proactive. I mean, you know, you can get mad at adults but kids? It's a little more difficult.
EW: Definitely, definitely. And one last thing I think I wanted to ask [pause]. I actually think I've asked everything else. Is there anything else that you wanted to tell me about or anything else you thought you wanted to add about day laborers or salary theft or anything?
RG: I think that-- we are hopeful that the legislature will eventually come around. I don't think it's going to be something that's going to happen next year or the year after. I think it's going to be a battle. And I think that as people are fighting at the legal-- in the legal system I think that it is our obligation to continue to work in the communities so that we can have a feedback and be able to work together to show our public officials that this is something that not only concerns immigrants because I think that one of the problems with this wage theft and day laborers is that it has been associated primarily to immigrants but the truth is that a lot of people who are being laid off today are dealing with this. I mean, anyone in the community who could also have a job is potentially-- could potentially be a victim of this. And so in an environment where people can be victimized so easily because there's lack of employment I think that it is important for our politicians and government officials to do this not to help the immigrant community but to help the worker. It's not about Latinos, it's about workers. And I think that's one of the messages that we try always to send wherever we talk because most people would say oh, you're just caring about your own people and I'm like, What do you mean my own people? I mean, this is working people, you know? It doesn't matter who you are, if you are being robbed, I mean, someone should do something about. And I think that will take time for people to realize that this is not just to protect Latinos who are undocumented but this about all those people who are suffering. You know, if you have-- if a native suffers wage theft, their family is going to suffer just as much as any other people elsewhere. But people don't tend to think that because that doesn't happen in the US, right? And I think that's something that also we need to show people that there's a misconception, a lot of people struggling and we need to do something about it.
EW: And just to clarify, what exactly do you hope to see as far as change in the labor laws? What is a main thing that needs to be changed?
RG: Well, one of the things that we would like to change is that there's a lot-- there's been cases that have been used to sort of identify what would be considered employer versus an independent contractor, as I mentioned to you earlier. The problem is that the NC Department of Labor if you mention that you work as a day laborer or something like that they would immediately kind of shut down and say oh, you need to go elsewhere, we can't help you. I think one of the important things that we're trying to accomplish is that the need to understand that to be an employer, you know, it's not-- it doesn't mean that you have to have worked for someone for many-- for a long time. Having worked for someone for many days or months, that kind of establishes an employment relationship, right? Entry level, to an extent. And also the fact that if you are told what to do, if you are picked up, if you are given the tools to do your work, those are characteristics of an employment, not an independent contractor. Problem is that we can't get through to some of those people who get those calls and they immediately shut down and I think that through this move to this work that is being done right now I hope that we are able to clarify, you know, these inconsistencies because, you know, law can be very gray. I mean, it's supposed to be black and white, either it is or it's not, but it can also be very difficult to interpret. So we need to have a lot of these findings being used to be more specific about what it means to be an employer or what it means-- what wage theft looks like and under what conditions should we pursue and we don't have that I think. And I think having that will be good for us because it will give us a tool to use the system to help those who are dealing with it. And I think that's where I'm looking-- that's where I'm hoping for some of the things that are happening right now.
EW: Okay, well thank you. That's all I have for today. Thank you so much.
RG: Not a problem.