Building The Dream Campaign

Background

Day laborers have congregated to seek work on two street corners in central Southeast Portland for almost three decades. While this practice provides a low cost work force to local employers, it is not equally beneficial for day laborers, surrounding businesses, or the police department.

On the corner, day laborers experience wage theft, inequitable access to work and livable wages, and unsafe working conditions. Surrounding businesses find that, along with the lack of facilities such as garbage collection and bathrooms, the congregation of people near their properties negatively affects their ability to serve their customers. These conditions are not good for Portland’s economy or commitment to equity.

The City of Portland, VOZ, local businesses, and neighbors identified an alternative. These stakeholders invested resources to open a workers’ center that provides a safe place off the street where employers and workers can contract for daily work. The City provided $200,000 seed money and established a five-year lease to use Portland Development Commission (PDC) undeveloped land located near the two corners. Voz worked with local businesses and neighbors to mobilize day laborers and employers to use the Center.

As a result of this collaborative effort of stakeholders, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Worker Center was established in 2008. The MLK Jr. Worker Center offers a safe space for workers to find work, build community, increase their employability, and grow as community leaders. The center also provides opportunities for day laborers to build collective power, organize for their rights, and have their voices heard through direct advocacy with state and national policy decision makers. Finally, the center improves the livability of the community while it provides an alternative place for workers to wait for work off the streets and demonstrates the innovative collaborative approach that makes Portland so well know.

Five years later stakeholders who support the center have a lot to celebrate:

  • The MLK Jr. Worker Center has generated over 22,000 temporary jobs.
  • Day laborers who come to the Center are from a variety of diverse backgrounds.
  • Day laborers established a minimum wage of $12/hour for themselves.
  • There has been an increase of day laborers finding permanent work through the Center.
  • The number of cases of unpaid wages from work found at the Center has drastically reduced (3 or 4 per year in contrast to the 30-50 cases VOZ saw every year from work found at the street corner.)
  • Unpaid wage cases are more frequently resolved as well, thanks to employer data collected at the Center.
  • Skills trainings on English, computers, cultural arts, and job safety and skills are conducted daily.

Day laborers are ready to take the next step and make the Center a permanent home.

Vision

  1. Owning a beautiful building that contributes to the livability of inner SE community and offers day laborers a sense of place.
  2. Become a hub where employers know where to go to hire skilled labor.
  3. Create a worker center for indoor job placement, skill training workshop space, and a community meeting space.
  4. Combine the offices of Voz with the worker center and efficient space for employers’ vehicles.
  5. Build with sustainable practices including energy and water efficiency, sustainable materials, storm water management and possibly renewable energy.
  6. Maximize the labor involved in the building to provide union work combined with opportunities to day laborers for work and training.