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Day laborers in Arizona strive for fair wages and safe working conditions

One Great Hour of Sharing gifts help in their quest to be treated justly

by Pat Cole | Presbyterian News Service

The Southside Worker Center’s Leadership Academy prepares day laborers to guide the center’s initiatives related to wage theft, fair wages and safety. (Photo courtesy of the Southside Worker Center)

LOUISVILLE — Narciso, Feliciano and Alberto had labored hard on a construction project in the hot Arizona sun for several days. Though the work was demanding, the promise of payday kept these day laborers going. They had cupboards to fill and bills to pay.

Yet payday posed an unwelcome surprise for these three men. They were paid for just one day of work, leaving each of them about $300 short. They felt demoralized and helpless, but they did not have to suffer in silence because of help from the Southside Worker Center in Tucson, a ministry supported by One Great Hour of Sharing gifts.

Day laborers like Narciso, Feliciano and Alberto gather at the center six mornings per week and sign on with employers for jobs that last from a few hours to several weeks. The center helps match employers with workers and takes steps to ensure that workers receive a just wage, are treated fairly and labor under safe conditions.

Several members from Southside Presbyterian Church, which sponsors the worker center, and other advocates went to the job site and protested the treatment that Narciso, Feliciano, and Alberto had received. After they had conversations with the employer, the workers were eventually paid, but it required the intervention of the legal clinic at the University of Arizona’s law school.

The center began in 2006 after workers expressed a need for a safe place to connect with employers, said board member Jimmy Wells. “It is workers organizing themselves with the support of the church,” he explained. “It really doesn’t work unless the workers take leadership in the center.”

Many workers have had limited opportunities to lead, but thanks in part to One Great Hour of Sharing gifts, workers have honed the skills necessary to manage the center. Using Offering gifts, the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP)  gave a grant to the center to conduct a Leadership Academy.  Congregations across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this Sunday will be observing SDOP Sunday.

The Leadership Academy prepares workers to guide the center’s initiatives related to wage theft, fair wages and safety.  They attend 12–15 weekly workshops and receive certificates upon completion. They are assigned to serve on committees that govern the various services the center provides. Some eventually become members of the worker center’s board.

“The Leadership Academy helps us identify key leaders who form the core of the work we do,” Wells said. “Without the grant from SDOP, I don’t think we would have been able to do that.”

SDOP’s focus on empowerment is consistent with the center’s ethos. “I really appreciate that the grant is not about charity, for people to do things for other people,” Wells said. “It is much more about how we can create space and opportunity for people in marginalized places.”

In addition to SDOP, One Great Hour gifts support the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Most congregations receive the offering on Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday.


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