Graton has been a site for day labor pick up for over 70 years. In the mid-1990’s residents and business owners began to voice concern about the 50 – 150 day laborers who would congregate each day on Graton’s main street seeking employment. Many residents felt increasingly uncomfortable about the conditions the day laborers were exposed to. Others worried about perceptions of the town’s image, traffic hazards, discomfort of business patrons, and the environmental impact of the laborers’ encampment on the nearby creek ecosystem.
Graton’s day laborers, meanwhile, were experiencing hiring and living conditions that lacked the most basic elements of fairness and dignity. Primarily men from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, these day laborers had to contend with poverty, lack of access to healthcare, and routine abuse and exploitation on the job. On a daily basis workers faced abuse from employers who often withheld wages, mistreated workers, and would threaten to call immigration officials if workers complained about working conditions. In addition, workers experienced discrimination and frequent abuse by residents and business owners who viewed them as outsiders and blight on the community.
In 2001, a group of concerned residents began to establish relationships with these workers and formed the board of directors of Centro Laboral de Graton. They learned that the majority of these hardworking men had been forced to leave their families in rural Mexico due to the economic effects of NAFTA and globalization. Most had endured the perilous journey north to stand on street corners in the United States in hope of earning a day’s wage to feed themselves and their families back home.
In 2002, Centro Laboral de Graton partnered with the North Bay Consensus Council to bring together community stakeholders to participate in a consensus building process. For a period of over one year, workers, volunteers, business owners, local politicians and residents participated in sometimes heated, but mediated dialogue about what the size and scope of a day labor center in Graton should be.
In 2004, Centro Laboral de Graton established a democratically run hiring process on the street corner where the majority of workers congregated for work. While this was an important first step; workers, volunteers, and residents ultimately realized that facilitating an organized hiring process on the street corner was not enough to address the multiple needs of day laborers. Volunteers spearheaded the effort to develop a site for workers. In 2007, workers, organizers and the community welcomed the opening of the worker center in Graton. Since the establishment of the hiring process, thousands of men and women have obtained work through CLG.
Centro Laboral de Graton’s focus on leadership development and organizing creates benefits beyond vital job related opportunities. CLG’s worker-led center offers everyone an opportunity to participate in leadership, rights advocacy, civic participation, networking and community service. The center provides access to training, education, health care and legal resources. CLG also serves as a base of support and a place where solidarity and friendships flourish. Today, the center is an active resource, embedded in the local community.