VOZ Workers Center Unites With Portland Solidarity Network to Confront City of Portland

The Portland Solidarity Network joins together with the Voz Workers Rights Education Project to fight for a permanent home for Portland's day laborers.

Submitted by Eviction Free Zone on March 2, 2017

Voz, Portland Solidarity Network, Oregon AFL-CIO, Northwest Worker Justice Project, Coalition of Communities of Color, Black Rose - Portland, and other allies will be marching to encourage the City of Portland to strengthen our partnership with them by granting Voz site control of the land at 240 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, where the Martin Luther King Jr. Worker Center is located. The land is currently owned by the Portland Development Commission (PDC) (an agency of the Portland city government) and is needed by Voz to construct a permanent worker center for Portland’s day labor workforce.

Voz' partnership with PDC exists because of the MLK Jr. Worker Center’s tight alignment with PDC’s focus on “investing in job creation, innovation and economic opportunity that will transform Portland into one of the world’s most desirable and equitable cities”. We thank PDC’s Executive Director, Kimberly Branam, for making public statements that reaffirm PDC’s commitment to working with Portland’s multicultural population to “foster inclusive economic growth and healthy, diverse communities throughout Portland”. VOZ is also proud of our partnership with PDC as an organization that supports refugees, immigrants, and other struggling workers through workforce development and community-building. We were excited to learn that “PDC will continue to support job creation, encourage broad economic prosperity, and make great places – with and for all the residents of our communities.” We encourage PDC to support us in building a permanent home so that we can continue our work of developing Portland into a more equitable city.

Since 2008, the Martin Luther King Jr. Worker Center has provided day laborers a safe space to find work and a mutually respectful hiring process; created opportunities for continued learning and advocacy; and provided tools and support against wage theft. Below are some of the accomplishments that show the value that the MLK Jr. Worker Center brings to our city:

  • Generated over 27,000 temporary and permanent jobs with respectable wages and fair working conditions.
  • Provided a healthy, safe, and respectful environment for workers and employers to meet and negotiate, while preventing potential conflict
  • Cultivated and strengthened the sense of responsibility of workers toward the community where they live, seek employment, and work
  • Built a sense of identity and community through recreation, culture, education and organizing, while promoting solidarity and unity.
  • Developed leadership of day laborers in order for them to promote and defend their own human, civil and labor rights
  • Day laborers established a minimum wage for their work
  • Drastically reduced the number of cases of stolen (unpaid) wages (cases at the Worker Center are rare; the vast majority of cases are on street corners or other locations)
  • Provided trainings in job skills, job safety, English, computers, arts and culture

Despite having become a permanent fixture in Portland, the Martin Luther King Jr. Worker Center is still operating out of temporary, portable buildings on land owned by the Portland Development Commission. In 2013, the PDC did not renew Voz' five year lease, instead switching to a month-to-month lease that provides no guarantee of permanence. Without ownership, Voz cannot move forward with a capital campaign to improve the property. After years of slow-moving negotiations with the city, the MLK Jr. Worker Center's future still remains uncertain. A long-term lease agreement is an important step towards constructing a more durable building with the basic services that our Worker Center should have, such as bathrooms, drinkable water, adequate offices, classrooms, and meeting space. This will empower us to continue, and even expand, this important work in our city and expand our capacity to provide the necessary job skills and safety trainings, English language and computer literacy classes, leadership trainings, rights protection workshops, and wage theft legal consultations that we've worked so hard to provide up to this point.

The Portland Solidarity Network, which has been known both for its work supporting exploited tenants in Portland as well as wage theft campaigns, has been a long-time partner with Voz. In the past, they have supported day laborers who were fighting to get back wages from days they have worked, and used direct action organizing to pressure past employers to do what was right. Now PDXSol is standing with Voz again to fight for getting Voz the home it deserves.

This is why we are asking our allies to join us on March 6th to demonstrate Voz’ widespread support and to encourage city officials to strengthen our partnership by fulfilling their commitments to move forward on granting Voz increased site control. Let’s stand together to build the Worker Center that Portland’s day laborers need and deserve!

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