Migrant worker consider their options in economic crisis

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By Nathan L. McBroom

Waiting for work on the corner of First and Main street in Shelbyville is proving to be less and less profitable for local migrant workers.

The mornings are getting colder, and the hours spent outside Centro Latino waiting for a local contractor or farmer to drive by are getting longer.

The nation’s current economic crisis has hit the local community of migrant workers especially hard and has caused several local day workers to consider possibly relocating.

Javier Gramajo, a middle-aged man from Guatemala, said most of the 40-plus men who can be seen waiting for work arrive each day between 6 and 6:30 a.m.

Many spend up to the next five hours hoping that the next truck that drives by will lead to a job for the day, he said.

Some times the wait pays off, but several of the men said such jobs are becoming increasingly scarce.

Thursday at 8 a.m., 30 men were waiting for work. By 10:30 a.m., a little less then half of them remained. By 11 a.m., most of the men called it a day and went home.

Local migrant workers have been hit hard by the triad of a staggering economy, a weak harvest, and no legal work documentation.

In Shelby County, the residential construction surge that marked the community three years ago has largely disappeared.

Sister Pat Reno, director of Centro Latino, said the men are suffering from circumstances outside of their control.

“Right now, because of the weather and economy, the number of men outside has increased,” she said.

Gramajo, who worked for a local carpenter for 3 years, was laid off earlier this year as the number of new homes being built drastically decreased.

Mario Valdez of Mexico said it has been nearly impossible to find consistent work locally. He said he does not know what he will do if the economic slowdown continues.

Many of those waiting for work on Thursday morning said they had considered moving if the local economic situation did not improve.

Large cities such as Chicago and Houston were mentioned as possible relocation sites, but none of the men indicated that they would return to their countries of origin.

Gramajo, who said he has the legal right to work in the U.S., said he is considering moving to Houston, where he has family and has a better prospect of finding a job.

“I’m going to try to wait awhile longer,” he said. “But right now we just can’t find work here.”

Not only has the amount of work slowed but also for the local migrant workers said the hour pay rate has stayed the same for the past several years.

One of the men, who would not be identified, said in larger cities the average pay for a day laborer is $12 to $13 an hour. Locally the typical wage for a day laborer is $9 to $10 an hour.

But even at a lower rate, the men said they will take whatever they can get.

One worker said the best thing the country could do to help migrant workers is to create an easy way for them to work legally.

 Hoy reporter Leah Aubrey translated for this article