Making Government Work

These Workers Are There When We Need Them. Now We’ve Got to Keep Them Safe

February 7, 2014
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These Workers Are There When We Need Them. Now We’ve Got to Keep Them Safe
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Groups across the country are helping improve the safety and pay conditions for day laborers.

Day laborers—those workmen for hire you might see gathered on a street corner—are often the targets of abuse, sometimes asked to work under unsafe conditions for low pay. Many become victims of wage theft, and because many of them are immigrants or have only a limited grasp of English, they have little recourse. According to a report by Baruch College, many day laborers employed to repair the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy became sick from contact with hazardous materials. But as Claudia Torrens reports for the Associated Press, several organizations across the country are working to make conditions fairer and safer for day laborers.

The Latin Union of Chicago hosts a worker’s center to help day laborers negotiate work contracts and educate them about safety. “In street corners the agreement is only verbal. We are more organized in the center,” Jose Luis Gallardo of the Latin Union told Torres. “We want to prevent wage theft. We want both the contractor and the day laborer to sign the work agreement.” Similar organizations are found in San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles.

day-laborer-1Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

New York City has three such centers, including the new Workers Justice Project in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. This nonprofit has helped 500 registered workers raise their average annual wage from $20,000 to $46,800. Representatives from this and other centers visit day laborers, educate them, and hand out gloves and masks to keep them safe.

These centers don’t only help the workers—they also help the employer find the right people for the job. Allan Suarez, whose company All Renovation works with the Workers Justice Project to find temporary help, told Torrens, “We have full faith that if we tell them we need a specific person they will bring us someone with that experience. It alleviates us from going out and trying to find someone when we have these good connections.”

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