I set out Thursday afternoon to tell the story of the thousands of people who are being paid $10 an hour (some maybe more, many much less) to clean out all the nasty, smelly crap left behind after the flood. The most obvious gathering place for day laborers was the parking lot behind Wells Fargo Bank, where Able Body Labor has its big brown motorhome parked, so I started there. Many of those workers coming downtown are parking in the lots underneath the Interstate 380 bridge, where a few who have come from far away are still sleeping in their vehicles. Those lots are filthy because the rain hasn’t washed away all the muck, and garbage bags are hanging from some of the parking meters to hold the overflowing amount of trash. Some trash is still not making it into the bags, though. And to think there was a veritable village of day laborers sleeping on mattresses and cardboard on the ground there…

I met Nancy Martinez of Dobson, N.C., who told me of her experience on camera (video will be back after editing):

But to get the full effect of what it is like to be a day laborer (for one day, at least), I got up at 4:30 a.m. to go down and watch how the selection process is done. I wanted to see if there was any curious activity (i.e. under the table labor), and we ran into a woman running such an operation out of a van underneath Interstate 380. Her workers, all Latino, were already awake and ready to go by 5:30 a.m., hard hats on and plastic bags over their bodies to keep out the hammering rain. She told us she was from Florida, but wouldn’t provide any other details. I’m hoping those workers are getting paid well, but probably not.

Able Body’s selection process was much more above board. They had new workers filling out applications and providing Social Security cards, and provided everyone with sanitized cleaning gear. They pay their employees $10 an hour, minus taxes, by check every day.

These are the workers who are cleaning out Quaker, Penford Products, the Paramount Theatre, the Linn County Jail. These are the workers who are working hard 10- to 12-hour days for our community so we can rebuild.