Health and Safety

In terms of workplace health and safety risks, day laborers are among the most vulnerable labor groups in the U.S. Day laborers are often hired to perform the dirtiest, most difficult and dangerous jobs. Reports show that migrant workers are injured, suffer, and die on the job at a higher rates than native-born workers because…


NDLON promotes immigration reform that legalizes undocumented immigrants and offers regular status for those living in the shadows. Everyone deserves full respect and dignity in society regardless of immigration status. Legalization and criminalization are two opposites that cannot co-exist. Therefore any immigration reform must offer pathways to citizenship without compromising on policies that broaden the…

Alto Arizona

¡Alto Arizona! is a response to Arizona Senate Bill 1070. It is a campaign to push back against anti-immigrant state and local laws that are unjustly targeting migrant communities across the state. On Friday, April 23rd, Governor Jan Brewer joined the ranks of George Wallace and others like him who sought to gain political advantage…

Program Areas

Migrant Rights Turning the Tide Alto Arizona Legalization Labor Rights Wage Theft Excluded Workers Day Laborers Workers Centers Street Corners Health & Safety   Migrant Rights In the absence of federal immigration reform, states are seeking their own remedies and taking matters into their own hands. Emboldened by misguided and punitive federal enforcement programs, states…

Annual Reports

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network is proud to present its 10th Annual Report. You can preview the report online in the viewer below or download a PDF version of the Report in English. To view the report in Spanish, click Spanish here. “Stronger Together” Annual Report – English Version

Legislation targets employers who shortchange undocumented immigrants

5:38 PM, Mar. 27, 2011 | Written by ABBOTT KOLOFF – STAFF WRITER

Alejandro Flores, 22, of Morristown (left) came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 16. He said an Italian restaurant owes him $1,350 in wages. / STAFF PHOTO: KAREN MANCINELLI

One woman said she had been threatened with deportation if she continued to press for pay at her restaurant job. One man said he made repeated calls for back pay to a former employer who kept putting him off. Another said a former boss set aside a week’s salary as a “deposit” and then kept it.

A group of day laborers, all undocumented immigrants, gathered Thursday night at the offices of Wind of the Spirit, an immigrant advocacy group, to go over the status of grievances against former bosses and to learn about a proposed state law that would beef up punishments for employers who withhold wages from workers.

Julio Lopez, a 43-year-old Morristown resident, said he left a job at a painting company in mid-December because he hadn’t been paid in weeks and needed money to clothes and Christmas gifts for his three children, two of them born in the U.S. He said he has a tax identification number and pays taxes on his wages.

“He kept telling me not to worry,” Lopez said of his former boss. “I said “I’m worried; I have a wife and kids.’ ”

Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, filed a bill almost two weeks ago called the Wage Protection Act that would increase penalties for employers found guilty of violating the state’s wage laws. Not only would such employers be required to repay illegally withheld wages, they also would be required to pay damages and be fined $1,000 plus 20 percent of withheld wages on the first offense. Convicted employers also would be subject to losing various state licenses.

Justin Braz, Quijano’s chief of staff, said the bill was inspired by a Seton Hall Law School report released in January focusing on the alleged exploitation of day laborers. But he added that the bill was broader than that because the problem of employers violating the state’s wage laws goes beyond those who hire undocumented workers.

“The intent is to protect all workers who deserve to get paid,” he said.

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, R-Morris, known as one of the most conservative members of the Legislature, at first responded negatively to the idea of aiding day laborers, saying they do not pay taxes. He then said the bill might be a “good idea.”

“The more risk you put on hiring day laborers, the less likely you’ll hire them,” Carroll said. “Maybe then they’ll go home. . . . I don’t think many people feel sympathy for employers stealing from undocumented immigrants. If this is an attempt to make sure businesses play by the rules, that’s certainly not unfair.”

The proposed bill also would allow some workers to file anonymous civil suits because of a fear of retaliation by employers, although they would be required to file a second set of papers using their names. Braz said the proposal would allow a complainant’s identity to be kept from the defendant, at least at first — a concept that drew a critical response from a prominent labor attorney last week.

“Due process requires you know who it is to defend yourself,” said Wayne Positan, a Roseland attorney. “It’s repugnant to due process.”

Positan said state and federal laws already deal with the issue of retaliation, and that the bill might create an unnecessary burden on local courts by sending additional complaints there instead of to state and federal agencies designed to deal with them.

The recent Seton Hall report addressed the vulnerability of day laborers, saying they are easy targets for unscrupulous employers because they often are afraid to go to authorities, fearing deportation, or did not know about their legal options. The report was based on a survey of 113 day laborers, mostly Latinos, at seven sites across New Jersey, including Morristown. It included observations of more than another 100 day laborers who did not want to participate in the survey.

Of those surveyed, 54 percent said they had been paid less than they had been promised over the past year, 48 percent had not been paid at all at some point, 94 percent had not been paid for overtime, and 26 percent had been assaulted on the job. Typical weekly incomes during the winter were less than $200, and between $300 and $400 during the spring and summer, the report said.

Yet just three surveyed workers filed complaints with the state Department of Labor, according to the report.

Department of Labor spokeswoman Kerri Gatling said the state does not keep track of types of complaints, so there is no way to know how many of the 9,598 complaints made to the state between June 30, 2009, and July 1, 2010, were from day laborers. The state did recover $8.3 million of wages or overtime for 8,845 workers over that time period, she said. The state does not ask about immigration status, Gatling said.

Diana Mejia, a co-founder of Wind of the Spirit, said her group helped 47 Morris County workers get close to $30,000 in lost wages last year by negotiating with employers, all without help from the state. She said her group routinely holds meetings to help day laborers deal with employers who won’t pay them. It also helps clients file complaints with the state.

Just two of the six workers attending Thursday night’s meeting had made such a complaint.

Delsi Cardona, a 23-year-old single mother of a 4-year-old boy, said an employer threatened her with deportation after she asked to be paid money that she was owed. She has not yet filed a complaint.

“I’m very afraid,” she said.

Alfonso Ortiz, 47, of Morristown hasn’t filed a complaint because he came to Wind of the Spirit three years after he said a flooring company stiffed him for $1,100. The law requires filing within two years, Mejia said.

“It’s too long,” she said of Ortiz’s case. “We still say we’ll try to help him.”

Silvano Jimenez Camacho, 28, of Morristown and Alejandro Flores, 22, of Parsippany both filed complaints with the state. Camacho said he is owed $1,200 from a flooring company where he worked last year. Flores said a pizzeria owner held a week’s salary as a “deposit” and kept it, along with his last week’s pay, a total of $1,350.

Both of those complaints are waiting to be adjudicated and are not yet available as public records.

Flores has been in the U.S. since he was 16 and has a 4-year-old daughter. He was not initially aware that keeping a week’s salary as a “deposit” was unusual.

He also did not seem to know about overtime. He said he has since found another job that pays better, about $800 a week for at least 10 hours a day, six days a week. He added that he sometimes works more than 12 hours a day but gets the same pay.

Abbott Koloff: 973-428-6636; akoloff@njpressmedia

Source: Daily Record

Unsafe rides are just part of the job for flier distributors

Posted Saturday, Mar. 26, 2011 | By Barry Shlachter –

"Walkers," who hang advertising fliers on homes' doorknobs, get ready to leave in the back of a pickup at a south Fort Worth convenience store Wednesday. – Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison

It’s 5:15 on a Wednesday morning, and about two dozen men are milling around several white cargo vans and a pickup with a wooden camper shell, hoping to be chosen to be crammed inside and taken to a suburban neighborhood.

There, the “walkers” will disembark to distribute fliers house to house, rubber-banding them to doorknobs and earning about $50 for six hours of work.

None of the day laborers at the Shamrock station on Fort Worth’s south side that morning expressed concern that only one of the vehicles had seats behind the driver.

They were more upset that the sole Ford Econoline in good condition and equipped with benches and seat belts already had a crew selected.

Noting bald rear tires on one van, a laborer named Michael Scannell defended the use of such vehicles, insisting: “We have a pretty good safety record.”

A 53-year-old man who identified himself only as Fred, and who would end up left behind that morning without work, said he’d climb aboard “as long as the van is safe. If it wobbles and shakes, it’s not safe.

“Anyway, I got to get money somehow, and this is better than robbing banks.”

Three people were killed and seven others were injured March 4 when the cargo van they were in careened off of Airport Freeway and ran into a tree. They were working as "walkers" for Reed Distributing. – Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner

But all the laborers were aware of the March 4 accident that killed three walkers and injured seven others when a similar Econoline cargo van careened out of control on Airport Freeway.

Haltom City police said the 1995 van belonging to Fort Worth’s Reed Distributing was traveling at normal highway speeds when it burst a tire and rammed into a tree.

Found inside were an open bottle of Mad Dog 2020 fortified wine and fliers for a New York-style pizza chain, Carmine’s Pizzeria of Dallas and Lewisville. Police have yet to release toxicology results on the injured driver or a final accident report. But they said several of the tires were worn.

Mohan “Mike” Sedan, the Shamrock station’s Nepalese-born manager, recalled confronting one of the Reed drivers after the accident.

“I told him you shouldn’t put people in a van like that on the road. He said nothing,” Sedan said. “Even in Nepal, we have seats in vans.”

This may change. Two flier-distributing services not involved in the accident said they are reviewing their use of such vehicles and may install seats. Up until now, the industry has taken advantage of loopholes in state and federal road safety regulations to hold down costs.

Seats not mandated

It’s an open secret in the door-hanger advertisement industry that most walkers are typically transported in secondhand cargo vans with no seat belts or, for that matter, seats.

“That’s pretty much the norm in the industry,” said Jim Garner of Cedar Hill-based Always Distributing, a family-owned business founded in 1954.

Otherwise, explained Lee Brown, owner of H&H Distributing in Fort Worth, they couldn’t pack in 10 people with thousands of fliers.

The owner of the demolished Ford Econoline, Paul Reed of Reed Distributing, defended the use of such vehicles.

“I am doing nothing against the law at this point,” he told the Star-Telegram.

As far as carrying people in cargo vans without seats, Reed is correct.

Under Texas law, as in most other states, seat belts are not required for adults in a cargo van that has no seats. And while the Econoline owner’s manual warns of potential serious injury or death for anyone riding in the cargo area, there’s no state or federal prohibition against carrying adults in the back, the Texas Department of Public Safety said. Because there are no seat belts, restrictions on capacity don’t apply. And because no one is charged for the transportation, the contract workers who drive the vans are not regulated either.

“Tragedies such as these are a reminder that more needs to be done to protect the rights and safety of workers,” said Pablo Alvarado, director of the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “Day laborers, like those who lost their lives, go to great risks to humbly provide for their families. Employers must be responsible for their safety during and en route to work.”

Neil Donovan, executive director for the National Coalition for the Homeless, said he has tried to prevent unsafe cargo vans from cruising for day laborers.

“When I operated a shelter in Boston, we would run off vans that came by,” Donovan said from Washington. “It’s a pervasive problem. I don’t think there’s a community that doesn’t have exploitation. Where there are people who are in need, there are people who take advantage.”

Many cargo vans that carry "walkers" to neighborhoods have no seats behind the driver. – Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison

Flier distributors aren’t the only businesses using seatless cargo vans to transport day laborers. Firms that provide cleanup crews at sports stadiums have fleets of battered Ford cargo vans in which workers sit on nothing more than floorboards.

Walkers like those involved in the Airport Freeway accident typically cover 10 or 15 miles a day for $40 to $55, said Calvin McDaniel, a homeless Fort Worth resident who has worked for several local door-hanger services.

The companies say it is a very cheap but highly effective way for businesses to reach consumers. Only one local firm, Walker Weathersby Advertisements of Arlington, advertises its rates. They start at $149 for 1,000 fliers affixed to front doors. The cost to landscaping services, insurance companies, churches and pizza restaurants is a fraction of the cost of mailing postcards or running newspaper ads.

But the business has a sketchy reputation because of concerns that the impoverished workers — paid by the number of pieces distributed — might simply take the money and dump the fliers, said H&H’s Brown, a 32-year veteran of the business who says his own firm has confidential safeguards to ensure delivery. Others say they make spot checks to guarantee a neighborhood’s coverage.

The low rates in a highly competitive industry mean firms rely on some of society’s most desperate workers, who won’t question conditions.

“You don’t think about risks,” said McDaniel, 40, who was a walker for about 21/2 years until he switched to cleanup work recently. “You choose money over safety.”

Early each morning, there’s a scramble for the best place to ride inside a cargo van, he said.

“I try to get the wheel well hump; otherwise you get scrunched up. But whatever you get, there’s nothing to hold on to,” McDaniel said. “They know if you are needy enough to get in these vans, they can treat you any way they want.”

After sweeps of streets near the Presbyterian Night Shelter and south-side boarding houses, vans from several flier services often stop at the Shamrock station on Hemphill Street and hand out advance pay of about $20 for coffee and cigarettes.

McDaniel described Reed Distributing as one of the better companies, saying it had never stranded him in an unfamiliar neighborhood, depriving him of his $55 earnings, which he claimed had happened with a rival service.

Paul Reed said he intended to pay for the funerals of the three dead workers — James Rice, 51, and Kenneth Johnson, 42, both of Fort Worth, and Karen Guffee, 53, of Mansfield — but declined to be interviewed further for this report.

Fixing up the vans

H&H’s Brown, who overtly advertises a Christian ethical approach to business and uses an evangelical symbol in his company logo, said he was so shaken by the cargo van crash that he’s rethinking the use of seatless vehicles. Only two of the company’s five vans now have back rows of seats.

“We’re in the process of getting seats,” said Brown, pointing out several bench seats placed on the pavement behind the H&H building. On Wednesday morning, he said, he found all the brackets needed to convert some GM truck benches for his Ford vans. “We’re going to fix all of them up.”

Asked why he hadn’t done so earlier, he replied:

“You take out the seats because it’s hard to fit in 10 guys and the paper fliers. And the law in Texas doesn’t require it. When I started out in this business, you sat on a milk crate. That’s how paper trucks are.”

A black milk crate was found among sleeping bags, fliers and a walking cane in the wrecked Reed van, now a designated crime scene.

Brown said that his insurance carrier has been told how his contract walkers are transported.

“And when we had accidents, the insurance company paid,” he said, then conceded: “They may have been injured less if they had seat belts.”

Although Brown has decided to put in seats, he asserted that they may not have prevented the deaths in the Airport Freeway crash. He noted that one victim, Guffee, was belted in a front passenger seat.

Referring to the driver, who survived, he said, “That guy ran into a tree going very fast.”

“If it’s unsafe to ride in a cargo van, why not ban motorcycles?” he asked. “Even motorcycle cops don’t wear seat belts.”

One of H&H’s contract drivers, a former walker named Arthur Hughes, 60, said he purposely leased a Ford van with seats “so people will be comfortable. I don’t want people flying around. I’m more people-oriented.”

Jim Garner, who runs Always Distributing said, “We’re like everyone else. We use cargo vans.” Garner said he too was shaken by the accident, prompting a review of his fleet of five cargo vans.

Will he upgrade to seats?

“We’re looking into it. We’re exploring the possibility,” he said. But, he added, the several thousand dollars to equip a cargo van with seats would be prohibitive.

“As my equipment gets dated, I’ll probably go to vans with that equipment already in it, instead of retrofitting.”

Not all local flier delivery services rely on cargo vans. Two say they use minivans with factory-installed seats and seat belts.

Robert Stafford, 45, of Richardson-based Ace Flyer Distribution, said he operates four secondhand Dodge Grand Caravans and limits riders to seven, not 10.

“I may be one of the few exceptions in this business,” Stafford said. “I will not put people on the floorboards.”

“We use a van too, but it has seats,” said Zakk Weathersby, 25, a former walker who operates Walker Weathersby. “It sounds kind of unsafe not to have seats.”

Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718

Source: Star-Telegram