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Day labor an unwelcome wait

Bad for business? Marietta merchants irked by idle men hoping contractors will offer job

By Yolanda Rodriguez
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, September 22, 2000

When Helen Lightsey looks out the front door of her alterations store in Marietta, she doesn't like what she sees.

"They shouldn't be hanging around," she said, staring at two men in the parking lot of Needle N Thread on Garrison Road, just off Powder Springs Street. The men were not customers. They were day laborers waiting for contractors to pick them up and offer work.

Lightsey is not alone in her frustration. Members of the Hickory Hills Homeowners Association were so frustrated they met with city officials Thursday night to discuss the issue. Police plan to tackle the problem from several sides by involving community leaders and government officials, said City Manager Bill Bruton.

Growing numbers of men use the streets to find jobs. They say there's typically a crowd of about 100 men on weekdays and a bit more on weekends.

Growing numbers of business owners, like Lightsey, are bothered with the crowd of workers. They say there are more than twice as many laborers --- about 200 men at the crowd's peak.

Some of Lightsey's customers are afraid to get out of their cars, she says. And others have simply stopped coming.

"I don't wish these people any ill will," said Margaret Barfield, the homeowners association president. "I want a better situation for them and I want a better situation for us."

The feeling seems to be mutual.

"We do not want to disturb her," Gerardo Perez, 57, said after walking away from Needle N Thread when he noticed Lightsey watching him. Like other metro Atlanta communities, Marietta has become a mecca for jobs and housing for immigrants, many of them Hispanic. Last year, responding to complaints, the City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting day laborers and potential employers from using the city rights of way. After the city ordinance was passed, citations were issued to contractors, but violators were not prosecuted because they promised not to return. Since Aug. 29, at least 24 citations have been issued to contractors.

But the day laborers continue to use Powder Springs Street.

Some business owners are asking the city to find a convenient location for the workers. Dan Bowles, owner of the Texaco Star Tune Express Lube on the west side of Powder Springs Street, is one of those.

He thinks the city needs to take the lead on the issue by finding a location and then enforcing its day labor, loitering and littering ordinances, he said.

"It would give them a place to go. It would protect the business owners," Bowles said.

"A lot of them out there don't realize they are hurting businesses. They want to take money home to their families. They need to know (business owners) are trying to feed their families."

Bowles said he's lost 20 percent of his business every year for the past three years because of the recurring crowd.

Even the day laborers are looking for solutions and a place to find jobs without being hassled.

"They need to give us a place to be," said Javier Delgado, 29, "so that we don't have to be in the street, so that the police will not chase us away."