Malibu Labor Exchange Faces Uncertain Future

City Council has awarded $100,000 in funds for the purchase of a new trailer for the Malibu Labor Exchange, pending approval by L.A. County, which owns the land on which the Labor Exchange operates. The nonprofit organization currently operates out of a decomposing trailer built over 30 years ago.

Despite new potential digs, the future of the Labor Exchange is far from set in stone.

Santa Monica College announced in March 2012 its plans to develop a satellite campus where the L.A. County Sheriff’s substation once stood next to the Malibu Public Library, which would effectively displace the Labor Exchange. 

“My understanding is that if and when the project goes forward, the Labor Exchange will have to relocate,” said Assistant 

City Manager Reva Feldman.

A mailer that was sent out to Malibu residents in Spring 2012 announcing plans for the new campus did not mention the Labor Exchange when it discussed demolition and construction in the area.

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According to longtime Labor Exchange Director Oscar Mondragon, an uncertain future for the nonprofit organization has been an obstacle.

“I wish I knew so we could plan something,” Mondragon said in an interview with The Malibu Times.

The Malibu Community Labor Exchange opened in 1993 with support from celebrities like Martin Sheen, Ron Hayes and other locals. They hired Mondragon, who had years of experience working with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, as their first director.

“This place, unlike other places, was set up totally by local people,” Mondragon said.

The Labor Exchange operates with the goal of helping laborers and residents, with day laborers finding safe, legal work and residents having a simple way to find accountable labor.

“The main idea is this — how can you provide better service to this community?” said Mondragon, “How professional can we be so people trust using this place?”

Part of that professional atmosphere comes from their facility, a second hand trailer manufactured in 1983 and purchased by the Labor Exchange in 2000. According to the staff report, “the roof is leaking, the floor is unstable and the electrical system is malfunctioning.” Mondragon added termites and cracked floor tiles to the list of ailments in the old trailer.

“We’re glad we have a place we can work from,” Mondragon said, adding, “We keep it clean, but we’re not the most presentable place.”

Speaking at the Nov. 24 City Council meeting when the Council approved the grant, Mondragon expressed gratitude to the city for its years of support.

“I would really like to thank all of you, because you have supported the Malibu Labor Exchange,” Mondragon told the Council. “It’s actually a labor of love, the Labor Exchange, because throughout these years, we’ve had no real budget but we come here and you help us.”

According to numbers compiled by Mondragon, the nonprofit found work for nearly 12,000 laborers in 2013, with over 15,000 registered in 2014. In 2013, 3,442 individual jobs were completed in the community using the labor exchange, whose services range from landscaping to housekeeping to childcare, amongst an expanding list of other specialties and skills.

Although the city has offered help throughout the years, including the new application for L.A. County to approve their purchase of a brand new trailer, city staffers are not quick to offer assistance to the Labor Exchange should they be forced from their current location by SMC.

When asked if the city has considered if they have a location suitable to house the Labor Exchange, Feldman said, “We don’t have any, so no.”

Although the land the Labor Exchange sits on belongs to L.A. County, according to a statement released by the city in March 2012, the city did have some hand in the proposed satellite campus.

“The City is excited to be working with Santa Monica College and Los Angeles County on the advancement of this project,” then-Mayor Laura Rosenthal said in the statement. “The satellite campus will not only provide new educational opportunities for the Malibu community, but will strengthen law enforcement’s ability to serve Malibu, especially during emergencies.” 

Mondragon admitted that finding another location residents would feel comfortable with is a complicated issue.

“This is county property, the sheriff station was close, so politically it was acceptable,” Mondragon said of the Labor Exchange when it opened in 1993. Finding another good location could be considerably more difficult. “We don’t know what the neighbors will say, and real estate is so precious here.” 

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