Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Sunday's New York Times had an article about the conditions that illegal aliens face when they work in the United States

- 117,600 day laborers on a typical day
- 75% of day laborers are illegal aliens
- 49 percent of day laborers were employed by homeowners and 43 percent by construction contractors.
- Day laborers earned a median of $10 an hour and $700 month. The study said that only a small number earned more than $15,000 a year.

The authors of the study were disturbed by how the day laborers were treated.

"We were disturbed by the incredibly high incidence of wage violations," said one of the study's authors, Nik Theodore of the University of Illinois at Chicago. "We also found a very high level of injuries."

Forty-nine percent of those interviewed said that in the previous two months an employer had not paid them for one or more days' work. Forty-four percent said some employers did not give them any breaks during the workday, while 28 percent said employers had insulted them.

Another of the study's authors, Abel Valenzuela Jr. of the University of California, Los Angeles, said: "This is a labor market that thrives on cheap wages and the fact that most of these workers are undocumented. They're in a situation where they're extremely vulnerable, and employers know that and take advantage of them."

A day laborer position is truly the quintessential entry level job in America.

The survey found that 59 percent of day laborers were from Mexico and 28 percent from Central America, while 7 percent were born in the United States. Sixty percent of the immigrant workers said that day labor was their first occupation in the United States.

But, day laborers do not work every day. It's impossible for them to find work on a daily basis.

Nearly three-fourths of the day laborers surveyed said they gathered at day labor sites five or more days a week, with the average laborer finding work three to three-and-a-half days a week. In good months, day laborers earn $1,400, the report found, and in bad months, especially winter months, $500.

Cesar Ramirez is one example of how a day laborer struggles to feed a family of six kids.

[Ramirez] said he makes $15 an hour when he works on plumbing or electrical jobs, but $8 or $10 an hour when hired to do landscaping. Many weeks, he said, he does not earn enough to support his six children.

"I come here every morning and sometimes I leave at 3 p.m. without work," said Mr. Ramirez, who said he had worked as a day laborer since arriving from Oaxaca, Mexico, four years ago. "I keep doing it because I can't find a permanent job. I'd like to find something better."

He said a contractor had recently failed to pay more than $500 due him after he had spent five days doing electrical and plumbing work. Mr. Ramirez asked a workers' rights group to help him get paid, but he was unsuccessful because he did not have the contractor's name, telephone number or address.

There are family issues involving day laborers. Most of them have kids but few of them are married. Despite not having health insurance they do suffer injuries on the job.

The report said that 36 percent were married, while 7 percent were with living with a parent. Two-thirds said they had children. The study found that 73 percent said they were placed in hazardous working conditions, like digging ditches, working with chemicals, or on roofs or scaffolding.

The report said that employers often put day laborers into dangerous jobs that regular workers were reluctant to do - often with minimal training and safety equipment. One-fifth said that in the past year they had suffered injuries requiring medical attention, and 60 percent of that group said their injuries caused them to miss more than a week of work.

Despite the fact that immigration laws are not being enforced activits for the day laborers are advocating that labor laws, that would benefit the workers, be enforced.

"The first thing to do to improve things for day laborers is to have more of these centers," said Pablo Alvarado, national coordinator of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, an advocacy group for such workers. "The second thing is to have the government enforce the labor laws more consistently."

Update: Karol says Mexico is handing out maps.

NYTimes Broad Survey of Day Laborers Finds High Level of Injuries and Pay Violations


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