David Rigby

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David Rigby describes his experiences working with immigrants and day laborers in both Asheville, N.C. and in Carrboro, N.C. He emphasizes the importance of being present in the community. He also describes the “corner,” which is the location where day laborers wait for potential employers, as both a social and vulnerable place. The day laborers are subject to all weather conditions and do not have a safety net in case they are treated poorly. He explains the relationship between the day laborers and the community at large, highlighting the inability of day laborers and vulnerable populations in general to communicate their concerns to the larger community. His insight into the community is demonstrated through anecdotes that highlight the difficulties that day laborers face and the frequency of wage theft. He also discusses policies surrounding immigration, both at the state and national level. He discusses 287(g), Secure Communities and legislation similar to Arizona’s SB 1070. He states that the effect of such legislation is to inspire fear and create insecurity within an already vulnerable community. He also discusses the lack of resources for immigrants and day laborers in Chapel Hill, N.C. and Carrboro, N.C. and the ways in which he thinks the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill community could address some of the issues that immigrants face through increased networking.



Elizabeth Willis: This is Elizabeth Willis interviewing David Rigby in Bingham Hall on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's campus. It is approximately in the evening and it is March 29, 201[2]. So, if you want to start off and just tell me a little bit about yourself, where you're from, what brought you to UNC, what you've studied. Anything that you'd like to tell me.
David Rigby: Sure, my name is David Rigby and I'm originally from the West Coast, California, Santa Cruz, California and then southern Oregon. I moved to Western North Carolina because my grandfather lives about an hour north of Asheville and I wanted to spend some time with him and at the time that I moved to Asheville the Western North Carolina region had one of the fastest growing populations of Latino immigrants in the country and I didn't know that at the time. And so I started working with the community and through the Western Carolina Worker's Center and Nuestro Centro and a couple of organizations, Consulta tu Compa and Defensa Comunitaria and worked with them for three or four years, mostly through people that I-- whom I met at college. And I studied Sociology and Spanish and Anthropology and then I moved to UNC because it became more and more difficult to find employment in the Asheville area and also because I had the specific goal of being accepted into the UNC graduate program in Sociology. And so once here I basically fell into, head first, working with Professor Judith Blau at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Human Rights Center. And I feel extremely lucky to have fell into that because I was wandering around campus one day and saw a flier outside of Judith's office in the Sociology graduate program and called her and a couple of weeks later, ( ) unseen, she offered me a position working with her and so, you know, that led to my work in the Triangle area, specifically Carrboro with day laborers.
EW: And so what exactly is your role with the Human Rights Center and what are you currently working on?
DR: Well, it depends on who you ask. Judith would say that I'm the community organizer although my official title is Assistant Director and a lot of the work that I do isn't community organizing. I do some of that but only-- you know, a lot of the work is maintaining rapport with the worker and maintaining presence in the community. And some of that is vital to community organizing but a lot of the work that I'm doing is I'm at the corner, which is the informal name for the day labor site that the day laborers use in Carrboro. It's at the corner of Davie and Jones Ferry Road. They meet every day in the morning out there on the corner, subject to the elements, waiting and socializing and talking and looking for work. And I'm out there, you know, four to six days a week for three or four hours, sometimes less, sometimes more, talking with them, sometimes not talking, sometimes helping them with issues of wage theft and concerns about immigration and concerns about access to local community resources. On top of that I am involved in the day to day running of the organization, things like writing grants, relationship with the community, getting information out about Board of Alderman meetings, council meetings, organizing community meetings. I also from time to time will go to the North Carolina general assembly when there's a particularly heinous legislation that would dramatically impact the Latino immigrant population. I am right now working on a project with Burmese housekeepers at UNC. I have found that through my work in Asheville and my work with the Human Rights Center is that the most important thing is just to be present and that it can be particularly gratifying and heartbreaking at the same time because the most important thing is that you show up and these are people that are not particularly used to having white, privileged U.S. citizens show up and offer them assistance. So, for that reason it can be gratifying and heartbreaking because there's so much to do that it's easy to find a way to make yourself useful and at the same time there's some problems that just won't be fixed by a well-meaning recent college graduate showing up with some information and resources and no matter how much you do there's more to be done. And so that affects my work because often I will show up and speak with one person and the next day they will have spoken with two or three people and through social networks that I don't have access to and that seem a bit mystical to me-- not mystical but just mystifying I guess, there will be more work the next day. And so, it's an interesting balance.
EW: And what do you think you have learned from working in Asheville, from working in the Carrboro area? How do you think you have grown as far being able to assist people or being able to, I don't know, reach out to different members of communities and that kind of thing?
DR: Well, in some ways I'm increasingly anxious, more so than before I started to begin-- to seek out relationships with members of the community because it is increasing-- I'm increasingly aware of how tricky it is to give the people in the community what it is that they want, what it is that they're seeking. And I don't want to develop a relationship with somebody and then not be of use and especially since I've only been in this area for a year, it's tricky for me because if I approach someone within the community with an interest of developing a relationship and then they ask me something, it could take me-- they ask something of me, it could take me four weeks of doing research before I find the right person to link them with and productive. Also, I-- if you had asked me, you know, a week ago I wouldn't have thought maybe that I'd learned anything but I then, you know, meet students that--who through Judith's passion have become interested in working on these issues and we speak and I--not to degrade any well-meaning students but then I realize how much that I have learned in contrast to some students that are just now getting involved. I have definitely learned that there are many different levels on which these problems affect people and there are many different levels that people can be working on and I'm working with Judith at a very intimate community level. I go with families to their events for their loved ones and I hear their stories and sometimes the help that I can offer them is-- I have a good friend that I pay his cable bill which is, you know, not at all in my job description but it has-- I didn't know at the time but it has ended up being a very rewarding experience and I have a friend--now this man is giving me good information and trusts me and considers me a friend of his and all I had to do was show up. The other thing that I've learned is that-- you hear right now the GOP presidential candidates talking about-- Mitt Romney has used the term voluntary deportation and this wasn't a term that you heard thrown about with any popularity or any frequency five years ago when I started working. At the time that I started doing this, George Bush had just been defeated in his attempts to offer some sort of immigration reform which at the time was derided as amnesty. And so now here we are five years later, seven years later, well, let's say five and we have seen 287(g) and we have seen Secure Communities. And I think what those programs did, which I wouldn't have had the perspective on, you know, three years ago to notice was that they have represented systematic program on behalf of local and national and state governments to undermine members of our immigrant communities ability to be secure in their access to resources and their involvement in the communities. These programs for all of the accolades they receive sometimes in the media, their success is causing-- is nothing-- their success comes in causing families in local communities across the country to suffer through fear until they potentially decide when something difficult comes up that they can't continue doing it. Now we've had HB11 last year which was introduced by Representative Falwell, which is a logical extension of Secure Communities and 287(g) the way they have been enforced which says that-- you know, it was completely unconstitutional but it said that we're going to check students' immigration status. Of course, that didn't pass last year here but in Alabama right now all undocumented students have been kicked out of schools. You see that in Mississippi, they're going further than they went in Arizona. And you know, say what you'd like about President Obama but he's deporting estimates of 12 times as many people as George Bush ever did. And I don't have any good words about George W. Bush but you know, my heart is breaking as I sit here talking about the way that this has gone down for these people. We have-- we had an underclass in this country and these people are an underclass and it's--that isn't new. But what we have done is we have enshrined as a matter of national policy, intimidating an underclass to the point that they can no longer be here.
EW: (pause) I would like to know more about kind of what's going on in North Carolina in this moment as far as how we're looking at immigrants as far as labor laws or any laws that are going on right now. What-- I realize that the immigration law is constantly changing and how our state is approaching immigration is constantly changing. So if you could just-- I don't if-- I know that's a hard question but just to talk about some of the things that are coming up, some of the things that are changing.
[Interruption, the building is closing]
Person: Hi, this building closes at 7 o'clock.
EW: Okay, Thank you.
DR: Thank you. Which is now, it's 7:03.
EW: Yeah, we can just stop it and then--
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EW: This is a second part of an interview with David Rigby. The interviewee is Elizabeth Willis. We are outside on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's campus. It is--
DR: Sometime in the evening?
EW: It is sometime in the evening. It is--
DR: 7:08
EW: It is 7:08 and it is March 29th, 201[2]. We had to move outside from our original location because the building was closing. So, I was asking you while we were in there about current legislation in North Carolina regarding immigration just in general and some of your thoughts about that.
DR: Okay, well last year in the midst of some of the immigration laws that were being pushed forward at the state level, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security released a joint guidance that was, you know, putting forward the administration's position on some issues. Issues like, we discussed earlier North Carolina's HB11, attempting to keep undocumented children out of schools. And in furtherance of that guidance, the administration has just announced through the Security of Homeland Security or-- sorry, Janet Napolitano just announced in January that they were changing the guidelines through which Secure Communities would be enforced at the national level this year. And the guidelines were things like-- were vague. They said they were going to investigate paths to citizenship for students, undocumented immigrants that had not committed violent crimes or crimes like drug dealing. And so nothing really changed but what those guidances did was give local authorities more discretion in deciding who to deport basically. It was more or less clear in that guidance, in that statement and in the papers that came out that people would not be deported for-- if they had been pulled over for driving without a license if they didn't have a lengthy prior record. So, right now nationally that's where things are at. Unfortunately, I was just at the North Carolina General Assembly yesterday and Speaker Tom Tillis has put together a twelve person panel including some of the more aggressive neo-conservatives in the state government including Representative Fowler from down south. These are people that we see again and again whenever there's anti-immigration legislation that's being put forward in North Carolina. There are lists of the sponsors and co-sponsors. And so these were the people on the committee exploring quote on quote what would be North Carolina's place in enforcing immigration reform at the state level. So, look forward or-- to seeing legislation advanced in the next year that is similar to-- you know, takes from some of what was in the law in Alabama and Georgia and South Carolina and Mississippi in furtherance of what we saw initially in Arizona last year with SB 1070. I don't think it's going to get any better. Right now the NAACP is involved in having-- in raising awareness of some of these issues as is the AFLCIO. You know, there aren't unions in North Carolina by and large but the AFLCIO has come out this year in solidarity with immigrants which, historically, the AFLCIO has been in a tough spot because unions have seen undocumented immigrants as competition for their jobs, cheap competition. So, right now things aren't getting better and things are poised to potentially get quite a bit worse in the state of North Carolina. But, Obama is seeing some heat to push forward with the Dream Act, which we have an active organization working for the Dream Act here in North Carolina. And, you know, that's the outline of what I know.
EW: And can you tell me a little bit more about the day laborers and the corner and what the situation is like for them? What the interactions between employers or potential employers and the workers? And just kind of your experiences that you've had there.
DR: Yeah, so the corner is an environment that is a strip of dirt that is maybe at its widest five feet from the road to the fence. And at its most narrow maybe two and a half to three feet. And this is right across the street from Abbey Court condominiums which is the organization-- which is the-- owned by Tar Heel Reality. Many of the day laborers come to that corner due to its proximity-- well, the corner sprang up about fifteen years ago due to its proximity to Abbey Court, which is that people could live in Abbey Court where rent was relatively cheap and walk across the street and look for work. And as a result of how it came about some informal norms developed and it's developed into a pretty interesting site. Unfortunately these men are every day subject to the weather. And coming from much warmer climates, even the mild winters of Chapel Hill-- you know, nobody wakes up in February or December when it's 28 degrees outside and there's frost and feels like they want to go stand on the corner and wait for work that might not come. So these are men-- and in the winter, people get there early because sometimes-- because there are a lot of contractors that pick men up early. But generally in the winter work comes later. When I came to Carrboro, there was an anti-lingering ordinance at the corner that had been passed due to some complaints in the community which Carrboro, which sees itself as fairly liberal and progressive and accepting, much to my embarrassment listens to and said well, if the community is afraid that there is some nuisance crimes being committed like loitering and public urination and public defecation and public intoxication, which were the listed-- were the listed impetus for the law, then we will put this sign here that men can't be here before 5 am in the morning or after 11 am in the morning. So, basically men that were out there on the corner, vulnerable men, kind of an invisible population looking for work were told that they could only be out there for certain hours because the rest of the community would prefer that the corner be vacant, which was unconstitutional and luckily the town decided to overturn it thanks to some joint efforts between the Human Rights Center and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the North Carolina Justice Center. Steve Dear kind of spearheaded that. But still men show up every morning at the corner. And it's a social site, you know, lots of people hang out there with their friends and wait there for work. A lucky day laborer will have two days of work a week and generally there's an informal minimum wage of around ten dollars an hour. It's a vulnerable site because these men show up whenever they can get themselves there in the morning and they have lots of triggers, they have lots of things that are against them being able to show up. But they show up and they hang out and they talk and they-- you know, there's some conflict and some disunity but a lot of friendships develop at the corner and the men will wait for work and while they're waiting for work, they'll trade stories about their work experiences with some employers, how much money they were paid. And in this way, skills are transferred and also men learn who not to work for. I was there-- one time I was there last week and there was a man that showed up who doesn't pay enough money and who works people hard, complains and is bossy and they know his truck so they can see him coming with enough time to shout out. And people just say, no I already have work for the day when he shows up unless somebody is really desperate to go work themselves to death for probable-- probably little income. People have, you know, spread the news around that this isn't the guy that you want to work for. But that basically is the extension of the protection that these men have from labor abuses. If they choose to go work, part of it is work ethic, part of it is cultural, part of it is feeling marginalized and not having access to public resources to support their complaints. If they choose to take a job and somebody chooses not to pay them or chooses to treat them poorly or chooses to not care for their safety then pretty much, then pretty much they're left exposed to those dangers.
EW: So, what are some of-- you mentioned that they must stand out-- or they go out to the corner in all types of weather and also safety concerns about where they're working and the work they're doing. What are some of the things that you've seen as far as health hazards or safety hazards that the day laborers are experiencing in this area?
DR: Okay. Do you want me to be less long winded? Do you want me to give a more concise answer?
EW: No, no, no, no please.
DR: It's difficult because there's a disincentive to report. The men at the corner, and it is men at the corner, they don't want to be seen as complaining. They, in a lot of ways, see themselves as being, you know, lucky to be here and even when things are hard it's difficult to get that type of information out of them. So, even I had to be at the corner for about four months, five days a week before men would start speaking to me about things like wage theft. And it depends-- I conducted a survey after about seven months and it depends on the way that you ask. If I were to go to the corner and ask, even now when I know the men, have you been the victim of wage theft, the vast majority would say no. If I were to go to the corner and speak to the same men and say, yes, I know this isn't a big deal and you don't want to cause a problem and, you know, I'm not planning to take this to court for you, you know, I just-- but I'd like to know just to get a feeling for how things are. Is there anybody for whom you've worked that still owes you some money? Then they might, you know, look at me sideways and nod and say, yeah, well I had this experience. And from doing that survey I haven't-- I don't have a really good really right now but up until a month ago, wage theft was more frequent now by far than it was when I first came to the corner. When I did a survey about 5 months ago, out of 81 people that I surveyed, 54 admitted to me that they had been the victims of wage theft at some point in the last year. Now these cases vary wildly. Right now I am working with a man who, as is one of the more severe cases that I've had, says that he was working with a man for seven years and-- this contractor and they developed a relationship. Unfortunately, for about the last seven months that they were working together, this man didn't pay him but because of the worker's trust for his employer and now is owed 7,000 dollars. And at the time they worked together, they were friends but now that the man owes him 7,000 dollars, he is some illegal alien that doesn't have a right to his money. More often, I see cases where a man is owed 300 dollars or 400 dollars. Sometimes there are different disputes. Many of the men that come to the corner are hustling. They are hustling to-- and I don't use that in a negative way, working really hard and being as resourceful as possible to create a relationship that will lead to further employment. You know, even the majority of the people that are serious about finding work there, they get to work and they work harder than they probably should because they think that if they work well, then maybe this person will give their information to their friends or maybe this person will think of them next time they have work or something like that. And it's pretty remarkable to see that for some of them it works out that they find a person that needs yard work that might need a significant amount of yard work. And that can be one or two days a week, which for them is significant. Also, there's a lot of carpentry that happens there so some men will develop contacts with someone that needs someone else on their crew and they'll be picked. And so this complicates the issue of wage theft because you see cases like the one I just mentioned where they've worked together for a long time and at the end the contractor decides not to pay the man and then the man might be reluctant to come forward because they've developed a relationship and maybe there will be work in the future. And you also see cases where, you know, there's a couple painters that come to the corner that are Latinos that started on the corner and after ten years have basically become recruiters for organizations and are repeat offenders and will come promising a certain wage, twelve dollars an hour, and will work these people sixty hours a week, speaking to them in Spanish, speaking to them as if they've got some camaraderie. And then, suddenly the person can't get a hold of them, they won't answer their phone calls. I'll meet you at such and such a time and give you your money and then the worker shows up and the man is never there. And frequently, when they do get paid, it's something on the order of five or seven dollars an hour because, oh, you've worked sixty hours a week? That's not how much we contracted with you for; we're not going to pay you for that. The most-- And then of course you see lots of men that don't talk and rarely speak in detail but are grateful to find work and are subject to whatever working conditions are available, so painting without respirators, working underneath a house without a tyvek suit or without protection from whatever might be under there, cleaning out insulation without ventilation, without wearing a dust mask, climbing up on ladders up on a roof, lifting heavy things without back support, who knows what chemicals they're working with and a lot of these men don't have an education about some of that stuff so, so be it. They-- that's what they do to make a living. And a lot of them probably really wouldn't complain about it. As an anecdote, the most -- the most ludicrous instance of wage theft that I've been involved in, you know, helping to work out, I received a phone call from two men that I knew one of them from the corner. They had been picked up by a man who owns a nursery and driven to Tennessee and they had worked there full time, or more than that even, I'm not sure the exact amount of hours, I have it written down, for four weeks and after four weeks apparently they were told, okay, good luck getting home. Well, and they weren't going to get paid, they weren't going to be assisted with transportation and they didn't know anyone in this little mountain town in Tennessee. So, in speaking with them I found out that had been recruited by a nursery that has an office in Asheville. And I called the office in Asheville and looked up their website. And they, you know, they're main racket is growing Christmas trees. And luckily for them the name that they gave me of the man that picked them up happened to be the owner of this nursery and the number that they had for him happened to be his personal cell phone. And so I was able to call him and also able to get the numbers of the investors of the company and to call them and speak with them and I didn't have any luck but I found out when I spoke with the secretary at the shipping-- at the shipping office of the business that the owner wasn't in because he was putting-- installing the Christmas tree at Governor Bev Purdue's mansion that day. And so I called the governor's office and spoke with her secretary for Latino affairs and the Secretary for Constituent Affairs and he-- some personal advisor through the person that answers the phones and just passed information-- a note on to all these people that I'd like you to know-- I'd like the Governor to know that the man that's installing the Christmas tree at her house is not paying his workers. I've been contacted by two of them, this is how much they're owed and this is where I can be reached. And I didn't get, of course, a reply back from the Governor's office but I received a phone call within an hour from the owner of the company, whom I had attempted to contact several times, saying that these men would be paid in cash by the end of the day. And they were paid every penny that they were owed, then they came home. I've also had cases where men were working for vendors for the city of Chapel Hill in government buildings and the man refused to pay them and luckily, with cases like those, it can be really embarrassing for the employers and they don't want to be embarrassed and so whether or not it's an ethical way to go about it, it's a way to get men to pay their workers. And the thing about wage theft is that, these are men at the corner that maybe have two days of work a week and maybe one day of work in two weeks and maybe they don't get work and maybe something happens at home and they get depressed. Many of these men are sending money back home to families through remittances which have dropped dramatically because of the recession. So, when they don't get paid what they're owed when they do find work, which is a blessing, and they give up a sizeable chunk of their time which is time they could be using to look for work and then they don't get paid, well, their families don't get their remittances maybe they need. Someone back home doesn't get the money back home for whatever use. Their families maybe that they've developed here don't have the money that they need and that's time that they're not going to get reimbursed for. And the Department of Labor in North Carolina has proven itself time and time again to be, ineffectual is the kindest word you could use for what they do when it comes to wage theft, which is a crime. Luckily, the Carrboro police department has said that we can come together-- we can come to them with reports of wage theft, but there's also very little that they can do. The one real tangible course you can take with an issue of wage theft for an undocumented worker is that you can take them to-- you can take someone to small claims court and file a suit. Unfortunately this can take six months; it's an onerous and obscure process. You know, they don't-- they haven't provided translation of how to do this in the court documents. Legal Aid of North Carolina is swamped. And there's limits, you know, you can't do over 5,000 dollars in a small claims suit. And, of course, the defendant is provided with forms that they can use to claim assets-- to protect their assets from any findings against them. So, because of the pressing need of these men to get their money and because of the lack of expeditious, you know, any expeditious way to get their money back, the best way is to shame, that I've found and had luck with, is to shame an employer that doesn't want to be called out as not paying their workers and, you know, you pay for that because you embarrass a worker but then you don't report them to the Department of Labor but then the people get their money. So, it's not perfect but it's a success in some means.
EW: And so, the men that are working at the corner-- Are the majority of them-- The majority of them are undocumented immigrants?
DR: Well, I don't ask that question unless it comes up and I don't provide that information to anybody but I would-- yes, I would say that there's a sizable group of men at the corner that are undocumented.
EW: Okay. And, if you could just kind of give an idea of the way that wage theft, I'm trying to think of how to word this, adds to hardships that immigrants and undocumented immigrants already experience. So, the ways that it kind of just makes things worse as far as things that they are already dealing with, how wage theft affects those things as well. Do you understand what I'm asking?
DR: Yeah, well, I mean, we live in a cash economy and so, you know, what do you need-- there's a number, I mean, unlimited number of reasons why you need money to live your life and if these men don't get paid it contributes to the stigma. These men have all sorts of triggers for-- so, they don't have access to local healthcare and a lot of them don't have insurance so maybe they self-medicate. They don't have access to higher education, maybe they don't have, because of where they've come from they don't have good information about mental health issues so they self-medicate. And, you know, they don't get paid, maybe that's a trigger to self-medicate. And maybe what happens is you have men at the corner who are drinking and so you have increased fear of men at the corner who are drinking, and then you have increased stigma and then you have decreased community support for men at the corner. So that's a very abstract way that that works. But it-- you know, these people are living in Abbey Court which is an apartment complex that a lot of these people are living at Abbey Court or at other locations in low-income housing. And, you know, they're, they've got somewhat informal rent agreements, you know, they're on the hook for their rent, but because they don't have-- because they don't have a lot of money, they sign contracts that put them on the hook for some pretty predatory practices, you know, at Abbey Court, you sign a contract for your rent being 610 dollars a month but you only pay 500 dollars a month and they call that their forgiveness because you can't afford to live anywhere else and that's the way that they keep their deposit low. But if you avoid the contract because if anything happens and you have to leave before the two years is up, then that 110 dollars a month over 24 months is 2,500 dollars, 2,600 and you owe that to them, they consider you on the hook for that money. So that's a consequence of them not having enough money. And if they don't get paid, that puts their living arrangements in peril. A lot of times what you see is several workers that work at the corner live together and so if one man hasn't had work or doesn't get-- has been the victim of wage theft, then it can put other workers that may have families to care for back home on the hook for his rent. So then what you see is people at the corner who need work giving up jobs at the corner, which I have seen, to their friend that is more in need. Or you see people that are so behind in rent that they don't see the point in continuing to go to the corner because they haven't found work. You see people that-- you know, there are a lot of people at the corner that make use of the shelter down here because they provide meals every day. There are several that live at the shelter. I was speaking with a man the other day that’s in his early to mid-fifties and he was living with a woman who was disabled, an American citizen, an elderly woman, and he was taking care of her. And, as a result, she had bought a truck for him so that he could get around, and she was severely disabled, and get his medication-- get her medication and do groceries and run errands and he was cleaning her and taking care of her. She was not able to do those things. She went into the hospital after she had a stroke and they'd been together for ten to twelve years and her family apparently has no feeling for undocumented immigrants so when she was in the hospital, they kicked him out of the house. The truck is half in his name but he doesn't want to cause trouble for his partner. He is not allowed back at the house, he doesn't have his truck, they kept his things. He is right now staying at the shelter, looking for work. He's not been the victim of wage theft but, you know, that's an issue. Another issue is the Burmese housekeepers with whom I'm working. What they're experiencing probably wouldn't be labeled as wage theft but the UNC HR department is-- has crafted a policy to get around the 1991 State Personnel Act in North Carolina which states that no temporary employees will be given benefits and that anybody that has been employed over twelve months, you know, well between twelve and twenty-four months but after twenty-four months definitely a state employee is eligible for benefits. So the way that UNC is getting around this with housekeepers is they're hiring a lot of refugees and a lot of Latino undocumented immigrants and they're not providing translation. And then they have a policy which is the Clause 13 in the Temporary Workers' Contract which says that no temporary worker is allowed to work more than 1,500 hours per year which is quite a bit less than full time and that it's punitive, this clause says, that if anyone does work for over 1,500 hours in a year, in any twelve-month period, it's not a calendar year, then the UNC must lay them off for no less than 31 days before they're eligible for employment again. So it's not only-- so it's punitive to the workers and it provides a loophole to UNC to not provide permanent positions which entail the cost of benefits and to really abrogate their responsibilities in employer-employee relationship. So, you've got Burmese refugees that technically aren't the victims of wage theft but that have been here for five or six years working with UNC and every year are laid off one month, two months, three months or four months and they have no explanation until I have spoken-- I've spoken with them what's going on. They've never had their contracts explained to them or translated for the most part. So, these are some of the things that we see.
EW: So, for workers, day laborers or workers here at UNC, who are experiencing mental health issues or alcoholism or anything along those lines? What kind of resources do they have available to them? Is there anything or where do they turn or do they feel comfortable talking about those issues?
DR: Well, unfortunately, it's not my-- I don't know a lot about that. There's a local organization whose name I'm not thinking of right now that provides alcohol and substance abuse counseling in Spanish and they do really good work, I wish I could think of their name. And also, you know, there's a local Spanish language AA program that's run off Rosemary Street right next to the Bo Bar. And for the most part, you know the day laborers I've worked with for the most part, it's not really spoken about as a problem. You know, there are some really good relationships that I've developed with some of the day laborers that will, you know, say things, especially as the summer gets better, like, well, I've worked three days this week, I'm taking my time off. And then they'll go drink for a couple days or four days is more accurate. They'll work for four days and then they'll go drink for a day. You know, it's common for there to be men that gather together and drink and drink a lot. And, you know, it's-- in making your living this way, in a country where you're separated from your family, there's a lot of triggers for self-medication. And, you know, luckily, the local government has attempted to at least, you know, poke their finger in the damn by offering health fairs and offering some assistance, you know, a little bit of counseling, some assessment. But, I'm really not aware of how big a problem this is and whether not they have access to many resources. I know that for such a well-endowed college community, there is a pretty disturbing lack of resources. Durham, in contrast, is doing better than we are. You know, we Chapel Hill and Carrboro. So, I--but I don't know exactly.
EW: That's fine. Also, I was going to ask something else--
DR: Yeah, there are mosquitos out here.
EW: Yeah! We're dealing with a bit of mosquitos. (Pause) Oh my goodness, what was I going to ask? I had something I really wanted to know about and I thought about it just now. That's from my--
DR: I thought maybe it was--
EW: Oh my gosh. Well, I'm thinking about it, I do also want to know, What more do you think that the UNC campus, or UNC students or UNC as an institution could do as far as being involved in the community and reaching out and making sure there are resources? It seems to me when you're talking about Human Resources here at UNC and also just the students here, there just seems to be a disconnect between what's happening in the community and what's happening on the campus. Where do you think we could improve and what could we do?
DR: Yeah, I'm not sure if there's an institutional separation between raw, pure academic work and institutionally valid research or, you know, and activism kind of soft kind of human resources work in the community. I don't know how UNC works in general but I know that there are vast psychiatrical-- psychiatric and psychological resources, you know. And whether or not there's a student or two students or three or however many that speak Spanish or speak Karen or Burmese or a dialect that might be useful in this community, just building those networks of people through-- the Campus Y does great work reaching out, you know, especially for health resources to your hospital system and seeing if people are willing to donate some of their time or expertise or even to translate. I mean, you're talking about such a lack of information and a lack of resources being made available to the undocumented community that there's no limit of places to start. If you get students to be offered some incentive to go out into the community and form these groups. You're a member of the Refugee Community-- what do they call the council, the Refugee Community Project?
EW: Partnership.
DR: Partnership? And I think that's fabulous and I think that the Campus Y has done a good job of institutionalizing some of those connections. And if, you know, it's a short time that you're in college but if someone else is interested next year who's a freshman and he or she can be groomed and takes a leadership position and then it grows into an intergenerational thing or you know, into a local non-profit like Judith has done. We have 150 to 300 students a year that are available at the HRC through Judith's students that receive some credit for volunteer work and that's fabulous. How can we, with greater effectiveness, harvest that expertise. I think it's an issue of having someone that's going to be involved in parceling out projects. You know, if we have one person in a class that can speak Spanish and is a good translator or one person in a class who's really good at PR or one person in a class who knows somebody in the hospital system. There are all sorts of different ways these networks can be grown. I think that one of the ways we're going to help out at the HRC is we're going to have some social networking and have some forum pages on our new website that I'm designing right now so hopefully we can have some links to some students who will, you know, and maybe a listserv and a-- just some way to increase communication between these disparate you know, blocs at UNC because people are so busy, they don't have the time to search out, you know, the correct avenue through which they might be of assistance and so we need to do that for them.
EW: Yeah, that's exactly what I think we're running into with the Refugee Community Partnership is finding that there's-- it is difficult to connect with different organizations and it's difficult to really know which, you know, how to improve networks that already exist and how to create connections because people are busy, especially students. And I can definitely attest that, people are busy and it's hard for them to--
DR: Well, I can vouch for the laziness of proximity, you know. When I was young, I wanted to make a difference but I wouldn't have thought that it would be working with the immigrant community, specifically the Spanish-speaking immigrant community. And I wouldn't have thought it would've been doing work around labor rights and wage theft. I would have thought maybe I'd be engineering, you know, some new technology. But I went to college and my friends were doing this work and that's the work that I-- and I was eager to help and so that's the work that I got involved in and then more involved in and more involved in. And, you know, it makes sense to me now and I've been passionate about it. But it's really just about getting in where you fit in. Start doing something positive now because it's really discouraging sometimes how much-- there are millions of people in this country fighting every day to make the world better in the way that is important to them and all we keep doing is struggling and that can be really unfortunate. And really, for me I find it discouraging sometimes. But that always-- you know, those connections are made at places like this where people who have the opportunity to join the Refugee Community Partnership do so because they have a longing and they have a little bit of extra time and then it sparks an interest and who knows what happens from there. I wish that we were a little bit, maybe, personally and nationally, self-actualized in doing research and doing exactly what, you know, spoke to our hearts and what would be effective in you know, helping the community at large. But sometimes you just need to surrender and do what's available.
EW: Yeah. And the question I was searching for so hard earlier was to really get a better understanding, from your perspective, about the relationship between members of the Chapel Hill- Carrboro community and day laborers or undocumented immigrants in general. So, how undocumented immigrants feel here, if they feel accepted, if they feel welcome here, and then, how you feel the community members are looking at immigrants, how they're looking at day laborers and if it's flawed or not.
DR: Yeah, I mean, of course it's flawed. But that's not necessarily anyone's failing. It's really-- the complex-- there's even, I would even say, multiple relationships. So, there's the Carrboro and the Chapel Hill that we're asked to believe in that's kind of the dogma of very liberal college town. Our police chief is maybe one of the more liberal that you're ever going to find. We're pretty well off, it's not easy to see poverty and we're accepting and we've got-- accepting of all colors and creeds. That. That's the placed that we're told to believe that we live in. And so, given that, in that town, if we lived in that town, which we don't, I mean, some-- our relationship with our immigrant community is not up to snuff, does not live up to the mythology. Just, you know, if you look at where the immigrants live, they're not where-- especially where undocumented immigrants live, if you look at where, you know, their social economic status, they are overwhelmingly living in poverty. They are not interspersed throughout the community, you know, they live in certain areas, they live in low income housing, they work, in certain cases, certain types of jobs, specifically day laborers. So, you know, what can we do? I mean, that's a complex question. If you look at, you know, the men with whom I work, the day laborers, they predominantly have relationships outside their own-- outside of the Latino community, in work. They have relationships with contractors, through that they have relationships with homeowners. This is a problem that was really brought into the forefront with the anti-lingering ordinance because, you know, as much as forty percent of the work that is offered at the corner to these men is offered by homeowners but because of the anti-lingering ordinance, which was drawn up with the assumption in mind that these day laborers were working with contractors primarily, they drew those hours from five in the morning to eleven am, hoping that would leave time, the time in which the contractors needed to pick up laborers. So, what it didn't leave was the rest of the day when maybe homeowners would be off work and would be able to come by and pick up a worker. So my argument in front of the Board of Alderman was that, you know, if you pick any other market that caters to a not, to a less vulnerable population in this country and you overnight remove forty percent of the income flowing into that community and flowing through the community through them, you'd have an uproar. You know, if you took forty percent of the car plants out of this country overnight and laid off those workers. Or, let's say this, we were selling less cars domestically would be a more accurate analogy. What would it trigger? Mass outrage and potentially a recession in certain sectors and definitely a hardship in certain areas of the country. But in Carrboro, a liberal area, we weren't talking about that. For two and a half years, we weren't talking about that. And that's because the relationships that these men have are through their work. They don't have access to the town council the way that we do, they don't have access to the Chief of Police the way that less vulnerable populations do or citizens do. Their input isn't valued in a broad and general way, the way that yours or mine even might be. And that's the state of the disrepair of our relationship with these people. That being said, there are beautiful individual relationships that grow between citizens of Carrboro and undocumented Latinos and Latinos in the community. There are beautiful relationships fostered in the HRC. There are, you know, there are-- Sammy Slade is on the Board of Alderman in Carrboro and he has some beautiful, you know, some close personal relationships with people in the Latino community and so it's not an issue of are we racist in the sense of do we attend Klan meetings and hate Hispanics? I don't think that's the problem. But the problem is that we have institutional blindness and inertia that keeps us from coping with the needs of our beset Latino community.
EW: Well, thank you. I think you've more than fulfilled your time that you needed to interview with me and thank you so much for spending time and talking with me today.
DR: Thank you. I'm sorry that I was so long-winded. I don't envy you typing this all up.
EW: Oh no, it's so fine! Thank you so much.