WASHINGTON – The Home Depot is tired of being forced by local governments to accommodate the day laborers who turn up in its store parking lots seeking construction work. So the Georgia-based company turned to Congress for help.
The Senate could respond this week by attaching language to the immigration bill that would prohibit city councils from requiring home improvement stores to pay for shelters or other services to help maintain orderly day labor sites.
The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., is designed to curtail a practice in the California communities of Mountain View and Burbank, where city councils recently have forced Home Depot to build facilities for day laborers onsite or elsewhere, hire security staff and offer bathrooms in order to get the permits necessary for its operations.
Local governments in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities, including in Illinois and Washington, D.C., have imposed or are considering similar measures.
The local mandates, Isakson says, are a costly intrusion for home improvement stores. Services for day laborers, he said in an interview, should be the responsibility of local governments, and forcing specific companies to provide services as a condition of obtaining permits amounts to "extortion."
"Yes, the local government is having to deal with the problem, but the root of the problem is the federal government's lack of enforcement on the southern border," Isakson said.
Others say the home improvement companies do have a responsibility to maintain safety and prevent nuisances among the labor markets they attract. Besides, they say, it isn't Washington's business.
"The overriding issue to me is it's all about Congress reaching way deep ... into the city level and legislating in areas where they really have no business legislating," said Laura Macias, mayor of Mountain View, Calif., near San Jose. "We are not a one-size-fits-all country. There are different matters and different needs that cities have."
Home Depot spokesman Ron DeFeo said day labor concerns have arisen in only a small percentage of the company's roughly 2,200 stores. In those cases, he said, the company works with local officials to develop solutions.
"We understand it's an issue in certain places and that's why we've been meeting with local governments in those markets," DeFeo said. "But we just don't think it's sustainable for us to address the issue alone."
Mountain View is considering a proposal to require Home Depot to pay $250,000 toward a permanent day labor center and to establish an educational outreach program for workers and contractors before building a store there. The city of Burbank required the company to build a similar hiring center at its store that opened last year and to provide the city with $94,000 to cover the costs of additional services.
Macias said local governments impose requirements on developers all the time based on specific, case-by-case needs.
"Once you're part of a community, there are land-use responsibilities, whether it's a center for day workers or traffic congestion remedies or park fees," she said. "To have it always fall back on the cities, that comes back on the taxpayers and it just doesn't seem fair."
"If you want to build and make tons of money from our community, we're going to want something in return," Macias said.