Day Laborers Move The “Mountain”

Melissa Bailey PhotoTenants at the Dwight Co-op Homes got to return to work Tuesday thanks to a crew of city-hired day laborers who came to the rescue with shovels.

The city hired the 21 day laborers Monday to help clean up the messy aftermath of Winter Storm Nemo, which dumped 34 inches of snow on New Haven, followed by sleet and rain.

The laborers came to the city through a temp agency called Kaiser Whitney Staffing at 59 Elm St. The city was able to hire the extra help, at $9.25 per hour, in part because President Obama declared Connecticut in a state of emergency, enabling the city to get reimbursed for 75 percent of cleanup costs, according to Erik Johnson, director of the Livable City Initiative, the city’s anti-blight agency.

Mark Cappabianca (pictured) and many of the other workers hailed from a Howard Avenue halfway house for adults returning from prison run by Project MORE. Cappabianca said a slew of guys from the Walter Brooks House all walked downtown together Monday morning through the driving rain in search of work. Cappabianca, a painter by trade, said it has been hard to find work, especially in the winter. He looked forward to making a few extra bucks.

Johnson coordinated four teams of workers Monday. From 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., the crews hit four spots around town. They cleared sidewalks and parking lots at four schools, Conte/West Hills, Columbus Family Academy, Hill Regional Career High, and Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy. Around 4 p.m., Cappabianca and others headed to the Dwight Co-op apartment complex at 99 Edgewood.

Johnson said while his crews focused on public property, he included the private complex because of the history of problems there. The cooperative housing complex has a troubled history: The city foreclosed on the property in 2010 and sold it to a Bridgeport developer with a spotty financial record, Garfield Spencer, who dragged his feet on repairs.

“There’s been issues with the owner,” said Johnson Monday. “I feel responsible for making sure we take care of these people.”

At the Dwight Co-op, he was greeted by frustrated tenants still trying to dig out of their long driveway and parking lot.

Cornell Green, Sr., who works as a unionized custodian at Hillhouse High School, said he missed two days’ pay because he couldn’t get his car out. His son, Cornell Green, Jr., got called into work at IKEA Monday but had to decline. Another tenant, a nurse, said she had missed four days’ work at a Hamden nursing home.

As temperatures began to drop Monday afternoon, tenants were busily shoveling to make way for their Tuesday morning commutes. Around 4:15 p.m., a van pulled up.

Ten men got out and walked down the driveway with shovels. They stopped before a pile of snow and got instructions from a city parks department supervisor.

“We have to move this mountain,” one worker translated into Spanish for another.

“Really?” said the other.

They dug in.

The “mountain” of snow was getting in the way of cars making a crucial turn to exit the lot.

Jose Martinez pushed his foot on a city-issued shovel and heaved away a big scoop of snow.

The team made quick work of the assignment.

“We’re grateful, very grateful,” said tenant Denise LaBoone. She said she planned to leave at 6 a.m. Tuesday to drive to her job as a material analyst at Sikorsky in Stratford. “What a difference. More hands, more help—everything works out a little better.”

Erik Johnson said he plans to reassemble the crews Tuesday morning for more work. The workers get paid $9.25 an hour. The rate is a dollar higher than state minimum wage, but less than the city’s living wage, which aldermen raised to $14.67 two years ago. The day laborers don’t get the higher rate because they are temporary, part-time workers, Johnson said.

At the mayor’s request, Johnson planned to assign one crew Tuesday to dig out the 25 most vital downtown bus stops. Johnson said he doesn’t need extra hands beyond the workers hired Monday. He said the focus will be on public schools, sidewalks and bus stops.

Cappabianca said he planned to be there.

“I hope to work all week—as much as I can,” he said.

Tags: , , ,

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: anonymous on February 12, 2013  12:24pm

What happened to the minimum wage law?

posted by: Pat from Westville on February 12, 2013  1:45pm

More importantly, what happened to the focus today on the neighborhoods? Per the city’s web site: “The effort to clean up neighborhoods will be intensive, including crews to clear streets from snow and day laborers to shovel out bus-stops, catch basins (to prevent flooding), sidewalk intersections for pedestrian use and more. . . While the City’s top priority for today is clearing out neighborhoods, work will also begin on removing the enormous piles of plowed snow from intersections and clearing a wider path for travel on main arterial roads.”

I would hope that they really mean REMOVE as in take away the looming mountain ranges of snow piled up at bus stops in the neighborhoods. Having 25 downtown bus stops clear of snow won’t help if people in the neighborhoods can’t get on buses.

An example. Here in Westville both the bus stop in front of my house & the one acroas Fountain St are obstructed by snow piles deposited yeaterday by a payloader. If I stand on the sidewalk the bus driver might not see me. If I stand in the street, I risk being hit by a car (Fountain Street in the AM is a very busy street). Of course, that would assume the resumption of this end of the “Q” Edgewood Avenue bus route. Per CT Transit’s web site this “detour” is “until further notice.” Presumably this means the road is still too narrow and snow-obstructed for the buses. And after what happened yesterday on one of the busiest bus routes (“D”-Dixwell Ave) I can’t blame CT Transit.

I would appreciate some feedback from City Hall on this, as many of you do read NHI and respond to queries.

posted by: Walt on February 12, 2013  2:06pm


They are getting paid more than the minimum wage, but your question is still good

What is the story re New Haven’s “fake”  minimum wage law and why does it not apply.

Does the New Haven minimum wage law do anything worthwhile without costing City taxpayers   50%  more than other towns pay for a the same job?

posted by: heightster70 on February 12, 2013  9:19pm

Melissa, I question Cornell Green Sr. union affiliation. At best he’s a janitor for a private company. A real union worker would be entitled to sick days and benefits. The only custodians I consider unionized is local 287 which Mr. Green is no member.

[He said he’s a unionized custodian. He could be one of the new “floaters”?

posted by: heightster70 on February 13, 2013  7:26am

Melissa, NOT, do you always take ones word as truth without fact checking. He may wish he was in a union but in reality Hillhouse is privatized.

posted by: Walt on February 13, 2013  9:16am

Who cares whether or not these guys are unionized?

Story shows there really are   folks ready to work their tails off if given the opportunity

Good place to go if you are hiring and need willing workers for new jobs,

These guys are inspiring!

posted by: HenryCT on February 13, 2013  6:10pm

Many street corners have mountains of snow piled by snow plows and making walking difficult if not hazardous. Hire New Haveners, give them shovels to move these so pedestrians can get through.

Hire snow shovelers to clear out catch basins so melting snow won’t pool.

Clear out the bus stops that aren’t in the middle of town.

Lots of New Haveners need jobs. Lots of work needs to be done.

And plan in advance of the next storm so we don’t wait 2-3 days before we put people who want to work to work.