Home Depot at Standoff With Laborers Who Swarm Customers in Bid for Work

Andrew Marra, Palm Beach Post, March 8, 2009

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In recent years, the Hispanic day laborers have become as much a part of the scenery at The Home Depot west of Lake Worth as the fence and hedges, and as more lose full-time jobs in construction or landscaping, their numbers seem to have grown.

The Home Depot is not pleased. Blaming the job seekers for causing accidents and driving away customers, the world’s largest home improvement retailer has been working to discourage them from rushing vehicles in the driveways and trespassing in the parking lot.

But the need for work keeps pushing the men forward, and the result has been an entrenched standoff.

[Gonzalo] Garcia, an undocumented Guatemalan national who had a regular job in construction until being laid off late last year, said he and the others only want to work and have no other way to find steady pay.

“We’re not here because we want to be here,” he said in Spanish. “We need to be.”

After repeated warnings, meetings and occasional trespassing arrests, the sheriff’s office has resorted in recent months to undercover stings to try to keep the laborers in place.

The workers are allowed to stand on the sidewalk or along the shoulder in front of the store, which is considered public property. But sheriff’s officials say they get into trouble when they block the entrance or wander past the hedges into the parking lot.

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This year the situation has worsened. In just January and February, deputies were called to the store 21 times for trespassing violations, compared with 27 such calls in all of 2008, sheriff’s office statistics show.

The day laborers are almost all Guatemalans and admit good-naturedly that they occasionally trespass onto The Home Depot’s property. {snip}

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Full-time work has become increasingly difficult to find, they say, and if they’re only looking for work they should be allowed to find a way to earn money.

Others feel differently. Miles said the sheriff’s office receives calls from customers who are frightened or annoyed after being surrounded by job seekers. General contractors and builders often send their wives in trucks to pick up supplies at the store, he said, and the women are sometimes startled when well-meaning workers surround the truck and try to open the doors.

Local store managers declined to comment. A corporate spokesman said in a statement that “the existence of day laborers is a complex social issue beyond The Home Depot’s control. Like many businesses in the community, we maintain a policy of non-solicitation at our stores.”

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