Seattle Day Laborers Head to Canada
KUOW Radio, December 17, 2008
In the midst of economic uncertainly, many people wonder what's up ahead. Key factors like unemployment and foreclosures offer some insight. Another is immigration. Anthropologist Robert Kemper of Southern Methodist University in Texas says a strong economy is why Latino immigrants flocked to Washington in the 90s. KUOW's Liz Jones checked in with migrant workers in Seattle to see how the economic downturn is affecting them.
THE MIDMORNING SUN IS JUST BURNING OFF THE CHILL AT CASA LATINA'S DAY LABOR CENTER IN DOWNTOWN SEATTLE. ABOUT EIGHTY LATINO MEN CROWD TOWARD THE FRONT GATE, EAGER FOR WORK. A TRUCK HAS JUST PULLED UP. THE DRIVER WANTS TO HIRE TWO MEN FOR LANDSCAPING.
A MANAGER NAMED SILVAN GONZALES SENDS OFF TWO GUYS…THE ONLY ONES TO LAND JOBS SO FAR TODAY.
REPORTER: 'Kind of slow today, huh?'
GONZALEZ: 'Yeah, it's pretty slow. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. The work is slow. What I can do? Nothing, huh?
LATELY, ONLY FIVE OR SIX PEOPLE A DAY FIND WORK HERE. MOST JOBS ARE LANDSCAPING, CLEANING OR OTHER MANUAL LABOR. CONSTRUCTIONRELATED WORK HAS MOSTLY DRIED UP.
A FEW MONTHS AGO, ABOUT 60 PEOPLE A DAY FOUND JOBS HERE. WORK ALWAYS FALLS OFF IN WINTER, BUT NEVER THIS MUCH. SEVERAL MEN WHO WORKED STRAIGHT THROUGH LAST WINTER, SAY NOW THEY'RE LUCKY TO WORK ONE DAY A WEEK.
GONZALEZ: 'The people say they want to go back Mexico because the family needs money.'
WHILE SOME HEAD SOUTH, OTHERS HEAD TOWARD A DIFFERENT BORDER: CANADA.
GARCIASQUINTANA: 'It's a good option, to go to Canada. I think there's a lot of work in construction, especially with the Olympic games coming.'
MANUEL GARCIASQUINTANA IS 40 YEARS OLD. HE SPENT LAST WINTER IN CANADA. HE'LL ALWAYS REMEMBER HIS FIRST DAY THERE.
GARCIASQUINTANA: 'How could I forget? My first impression was how expensive it was. I went to Walmart and looked at prices. It was tremendous. That really struck me.'
MANUEL'S LIVED IN THE STATES FOR 25 YEARS. HE MOSTLY WORKS IN CONSTRUCTION.
HE THINKS CANADIANS TREAT DAY WORKERS WITH MORE RESPECT, AND THE PAY'S A LITTLE BETTER. NOT MUCH, BUT ENOUGH.
IT WAS EASY FOR MANUEL TO FIND JOBS THERE HE'D JUST SHOW UP AT CONSTRUCTION SITES AND ASK.
PAPPARD: 'Particularly over the past three or four years as the economy heated up, there has been a real demand.'
WAYNE PAPPARD HEADS THE BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION TRADES COUNCIL FOR CANADA'S B.C. AND YUKON TERRITORIES.
PAPPARD: 'The day labor workforce, or undocumented workforce, certainly that is getting ever more present here in the lower mainland.'
MANY WORKERS MIGRATED NORTH WITH HOPES OF FINDING WORK RELATED TO THE OLYMPICS. ANTICIPATION OF THE UPCOMING GAMES SPARKED A WAVE OF NEW PROJECTS BOTH IN INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT AND HOUSING.
BUT PAPPARD WARNS THAT WORK IS ON THE DOWNSWING, AND THE GLOBAL RECESSION IS STARTING TO TAKE A TOLL. HE OFFERS SOME CAUTIONARY ADVICE TO DAY LABORERS WHO HAVE THEIR SIGHTS SET ON CANADA.
PAPPARD: 'I'd make sure that you got enough money to come up here and take a look around and get back home. That you got a home to go to. The situation is rapidly deteriorating here. I don't think it's going to get much better in a year or so, at least two years.'
BUT IT SEEMS THAT GLOOMY FORECAST MAY GO UNHEEDED. AT THE ABBOTTSFORD BORDER CROSSING, EAST OF BLAINE, POLICE RECENTLY REPORTED A SURGE IN BORDER JUMPERS. LAST MONTH THEY RESPONDED TO EIGHT CALLS AND ARRESTED SIX PEOPLE…MOST OF THEM LATINOS. DESPITE THAT, BORDER OFFICIALS HAVE NOT SEEN AN OVERALL INCREASE OF UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS ENTERING CANADA.
BACK AT CASA LATINA, A WORKER NAMED OSCAR ROMERO HAS HEARD GOOD AND BAD STORIES ABOUT CANADA. TO HIM, IT'S NOT WORTH THE RISK.
ROMERO: 'I'd like to go see for myself, but I don't think I'll do it. I know some people who went to Canada and they came back right away. They didn't know where to go. Some of them ended up sleeping in the streets. I don't think this will continue in the U.S…in the most powerful country in the world.'
RECENTLY, OSCAR TRAVELED TO SIX DIFFERENT STATES LOOKING FOR JOBS AS A HOUSE PAINTER. WORK WAS SLOW EVERYWHERE. HE CAME BACK TO SEATTLE BECAUSE AT LEAST THE PAY IS BETTER HERE.
THE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN HAS HIT OSCAR HARD. WITHOUT A JOB, HE COULDN'T PAY RENT ON HIS APARTMENT. NOW, HE SLEEPS AT A SHELTER. THAT'S A TREND CASA LATINA MANAGERS HAVE RECENTLY SEEN WITH MORE OF THEIR WORKERS.
ANOTHER CHANGE IS WITH FAMILY VISITS TO MEXICO. TYPICALLY, SOME MEN HEAD HOME IN DECEMBER. BUT THIS YEAR, MANY WENT BACK A MONTH OR TWO EARLIER. IT'S THE FIRST TIME THAT'S HAPPENED IN THE CENTER'S 10YEAR HISTORY.
AMBIENT: 'At day center, men talking in background.'
I WANDER ACROSS THE GRAVEL COURTYARD TO CHAT WITH MANUEL THE GUY WHO WENT TO CANADA LAST YEAR. HE PLANS TO GO BACK TO VANCOUVER IN FEBRUARY.
GARCIASQUINTANA: 'Canada nos espera con los brazos abiertos.'
REPORTER: 'Hablas como un Canadiense.'
MANUEL GRINS AND DECLARES, 'CANADA WAITS FOR US WITH OPEN ARMS.' I TEASE HIM THAT HE TALKS LIKE A CANADIAN.
GARCIASQUINTANA: 'Oh thanks, I hope so, one day.'
HE SAYS HE HOPES TO ONE DAY.
BUT OUT HERE, MANUEL KEEPS HIS TRAVEL PLANS UNDER WRAPS. HE'S AFRAID IF THE OTHER GUYS FIND OUT, THEY'LL ALL BUG HIM TO COME ALONG WHEN HE HEADS BACK ACROSS THE BORDER. LIZ JONES, KUOW NEWS.