CARRBORO - Alberto De Latorre has stood on the corner for 15 years, he said.
"You can't really say one day is good, one day is bad," he said. "It's impossible to predict."
But when the immigrant from Mexico City does not find work by 11 a.m., he and the other men must leave the corner of Jones Ferry and Davie roads in Carrboro and try again the next day.
"It feels bad when the police show up and tell you to leave," De Latorre said in Spanish through an interpreter. "You feel like a delinquent."
DeLatorre spoke Saturday at a workshop aimed at finding better options for local day laborers. Two organizers from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network spent the week in Orange County to meet with local workers and talk about establishing an official center, possibly at El Centro Hispano in Carrboro Plaza.
"No decisions have been made," said local organizer Mauricio Castro of the N.C. Latino Coalition. Activists, government leaders and business people have formed a committee but stressed the workers must have a say.Gathering spots
There are an estimated 700 gathering spots and 65 official day laborer centers in the United States, Chris Newman, an attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told about 35 people at a meeting Saturday at El Centro Hispano.
On any given day about 117,600 people are working as day laborers or looking for day-labor jobs, according to a 2010 national study by researchers at the Center for Study of Urban Poverty, University of Illinois at Chicago and New School University.
Carrboro's corner is smaller than many. A few dozen men - mostly from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador but also black U.S. citizens - gather there each day.
But the situation has been a problem. After neighbors complained about loitering, harassment, drinking and public urination, the Board of Aldermen restricted the hours people could wait for work from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m.
But problems continue.
"It is a location that requires constant police services," Police Chief Carolyn Hutchison said Monday. "We're there every day. I can't really say that about many other locations in town."
Hutchison said the problems are caused not by the men who end up getting work, but by those who don't and by others who congregate for other reasons. The corner is a busy place with a small shopping center and nearby apartments.
"We've always said the guys that come to the corner [for work] are not generally responsible for the criminal activity in the area," she said. "It's when people are not picked up and don't move on that we see problems related to public consumption, trespassing, urination, defecation, littering and ... catcalls, rude comments."
Hutchison plans to join the task force exploring an alternative, permanent site. Besides the complaints about the corner, the chief says it's not safe for the workers.
"Sometimes the guys actually jump into the street," she said. "If people stop in the intersection it can get kind of dicey."Law challenged
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has challenged the constitutionality of the town's restrictions, saying they limit people's ability to find work.
"With its disproportionate burden on the community's working Latino community, [the ordinance] is a blemish on Carrboro's progressive reputation," staff attorney Chris Brook wrote to Town Attorney Mike Brough.
Instead of infringing on First Amendment rights, Carrboro police should enforce violations of the law as they occur, Brook wrote.
Efforts to reach Brough were unsuccessful Monday. In an email to the Board of Aldermen, however, he said the aldermen have three choices: repeal the ordinance, amend its hours to make sure it does not affect those seeking work, or let it stand as is.
"Applying the First Amendment usually involves some balancing of conflicting interests," Brough wrote, "and it seems to me that the balance should be struck in this case in favor of the ordinance, given the real problems it seeks to address and the extremely limited degree to which the ordinance interferes with constitutionally protected activity (all of which can occur by moving just outside the area covered by the ordinance)."
But Brough adds the fact that he believes the ordinance is constitutional does not mean the town would win a potentially costly lawsuit. He recommends the town look at how the ordinance has worked before it makes a decision.'Wage theft'
The national study, "On the Corner: Day labor in the United States," was based on a survey of 2,660 day laborers at 264 hiring sites. It found an estimated three in four day laborers are in the country illegally, mostly from Mexico and Central America. About 28 percent of laborers' children are U.S. citizens.
Day laborers frequently encounter "wage theft," a problem reported in the Carrboro worker community. The local extent of the problem is unknown but the national study found nearly half of workers reported not being paid at least one day in the prior two months.
A day laborer center could fight wage theft by requiring employers to register with the site, Newman said. It could offer English classes and job development skills. By setting a minimum wage - the going rate in Carrboro is $10 per hour, he said - it could eliminate workers competing for cheaper wages just to get a day's work.
The town has looked at alternative sites, including near Willow Creek shopping center, that did not work out, Alderwoman Randee Haven-ODonnell said Saturday. "When El Centro moved to Carrboro Plaza, we saw a great opportunity," she said.
De Latorre said it's possible, if the location works out, that workers would use it. El Centro is less than a mile from Jones Ferry and Davie roads.
But it won't be easy, he said. The men have waited at the corner a long time. It's across the street from Abbey Court and close to other apartments where many of them live.
"The corner is a part of Carrboro," he said.