Day Labor Center affords cash, hope
After working the night shift, Ray Nephew proceeds to the Day Labor Center in Cortez every morning to help make ends meet.
“It’s nice to be able to find odd jobs to earn a little extra money,” said the 39-year-old.
An Arizona native from the Navajo reservation, Nephew said he tries to help his aging parents as much as possible. The additional work he finds at the Day Labor Center is a welcome relief.
However, when he’s unable to land surplus work, Nephew admits he sometimes becomes discouraged, and wonders if the American dream is only meant for other people.
“I stay motivated by getting up everyday ready to work,” he said.
A program of the Bridge Emergency Shelter, the Day Labor Center has connected some 1,300 workers with over 250 employers to complete more than 2,400 jobs since it opened three years ago.
“The best feeling is knowing that people will be able to feed their families,” said center manager Anna Bousquet. “That sense of satisfaction and accomplishment the workers get is integral to their ego when earning a living.”
Adamant that the service is neither a handout nor employs undocumented workers, Bousquet said she shares the laborers depression and anxiety when they can’t find jobs. When residents call in to request labor, both she and her family of workers know they will be able to survive a little longer.
“Everyday I pray for my jobs,” she said.
Retired engineer Dick Rudolph has called on the Day Labor Center many times for various landscaping projects at his home north of Cortez. He first learned of the service through word of mouth, and said it was a “perfect solution” for anyone who needed odd jobs completed.
“The Day Labor Center is a valuable resource,” he said. “It not only serves residents when they need help, but it also serves the laborers when they are trying to pull themselves up.”
Residents needing labor simply call the center to describe the type of work, the number of laborers needed, the job site and the time when they want the work completed. Bousquet then draws numbers randomly to ensure fairness when assigning jobs. Specialty jobs, such as sheep shearing, are given to laborers with the necessary skills needed to complete the work.
“We serve the entire Four Corners area,” she said. “There’s not another service like this anywhere nearby.”
Nephew and his brothers are among 10 to 20 laborers who seek extra work at the Day Labor Center. And while the American dream may appear hopeless for Nephew, he said he would like to make just one request of President Barack Obama about additional employment opportunities.
“I’d ask the president to create jobs on the reservation,” he said. “I’d rather work closer to home.”