Day labor centers

Nothing has tarnished the image of immigrant laborers quite as badly as the crowds of unsupervised workers who have swarmed around convenience stores and building supply retailers in recent years. In addition to complaints from store and property owners, the day laborers themselves often tell tales of being ripped off or exploited by unscrupulous contractors.

A lot of this chaos is coming under control in communities that have organized day labor centers to provide a safer, more orderly process for matching workers with contractors. The details on how these centers run vary from community to community, but the basics are mostly the same.

In a typical scenario, contractors seeking workers present their requests to a day labor center staff person who then chooses from a list of available names. Contractors can also request certain workers by name in a lot of cases. Some centers are funded by city money and staffed with a mixture of volunteers from local social service agencies and churches and even contractor associations. And some of the centers are funded by dues paid for by the workers themselves.

According to UCLA’s Center for Urban Poverty there are more than 100,000 day laborers working in the United States, mostly Latino, mostly working in landscape and construction. And recent estimates put the number of day labor centers in the country at more than 60.

If you decide to use workers from a day labor center, however, be advised it’s still up to you to determine the eligibility of the workers you choose. Hiring day laborers from day labor centers does not absolve employers from following immigration laws, and day labor centers are not required to verify the day laborers’ immigration status, says Lynn Svensson, director of the Day Labor Research Institute. Contractors have to have the I-9 form filled out and see and make copies of the required documents, even if hiring for less than three days.

To expedite the day labor hiring process, Svensson recommends contractors ask the center to have the day laborers ready with I-9s already filled out and the documents and copies ready as well. This is a reasonable request, she says, since all the forms can be downloaded off the USCIS website.

Federal and state taxes are supposed to be deducted and paid by the employer – even when the employer pays in cash. Workman’s comp regulations also apply to day laborers, but since workman’s comp rules vary from state to state, Svensson recommends you check with state officials.

Day laborers prefer being paid in cash, but this is because of frequent bad checks from employers, Svensson says. She recommends contractors ask the day laborer to sign a receipt for the cash wages and keep a copy.

Day laborers who are going to work for several days or more can be paid once a week, but Svennson says to make sure the day laborers understand this when hired. They may think they are being stiffed if they don’t understand the payment schedule.

Day laborers hired from temp agencies are treated differently. They are actually employees of the temp agency rather than of the contractor, thus the task of verifying the laborers’ legality falls on the temp agency. The contractor does not pay the day laborer, but rather pays the temp agency. This saves the contractor the hassle of filling out forms, but the contractor pays for both the laborers’ work and whatever additional overhead and profits the temp agency charges for its services.

If you have additional questions or would like to explore setting up a day labor center in your community the Day Labor Research Institute has resources that can help guide you. For more information call (208) 305-4369 or visit this site.