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Unpaid Day Laborers Speak Out




It’s an issue that rarely is talked about but now the problem is getting bigger. Day laborers doing weeks of work for contractors but not getting paid.

Some Guatemalan day laborers say they were hired by northern Virginia contractors who didn’t pay them for as much as two weeks of work. “They promise you’ll get paid on Friday and then you don’t get paid and you count on that money coming in, ” said day laborer Juan Aguilar.

Aguilar says it’s happened to him three times in the last six months. “It’s a great injustice because we are all just humans, sick ” he said. Since the day laborers are paid in cash and are in the country illegally, treat they have no recourse. “The only thing I want is for them to pay me because I actually worked,” said Nelson Dominguez.

“I think it’s disgusting for someone to take advantage of the most vulnerable people in our society,” said Realtor George Torres, a friend of the workers. “They know these people have no rights.” Torres befriended the men and was shocked to hear their story. “Yeah, they shouldn’t be here, but there’s a need for them, there’s a niche. If there wasn’t, they wouldn’t be here,” he said.

ABC 7’s Andrea McCarren went to see contractor Mike Caso. He allegedly owes Juan Aguilar $2,000 and Aguilar’s brother Rolando $700. ”I have no knowledge of it,” Caso said. Caso says he spent the $2,000 getting a friend of Juan’s out of jail. He says now he tries to hire only Americans. McCarren also ventured to the home of E2E Enterprises, where the owner’s sister said the workers were lying. “Whoever you’re talking about, I have no idea,” said Carol Whitehurst with E2E Enterprises.

When asked if the company hires illegal workers, Whitehurst responded, “I’m not giving you the details in what’s going on. I know what’s going on but I’m not telling you.” Juan Aguilar showed some photos of his family to McCarren,”This is my wife and this is my two kids. That’s why I’m here.” The day laborers said to cross the border into the U.S., they clung to the side of moving trains and walked for miles. Now, the day laborers say they just want to go home.



Religious leaders speak out on of laborers

by Jake Krob · July 16, 2008


Cornell College’s chaplain joined faith leaders from across the state last week to talk about what they say has been worker exploitation and a disregard for immigrant families in Iowa. In a conference call with media from around the state, s they highlighted the issue in light of day-laborers in Iowa helping with Flood of 2008 recovery efforts and the May raid in Postville.

Christians For Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR), patient a coalition of Christian organizations, convened the call.

The religious community is “taking the lead to shine a light on worker abuses,” said Patty Kupfer, manager of Partnerships with America’s Voice, an organization focused on increasing public and political support for immigration reform.

The Rev. Catherine Quehl-Engel, Cornell’s chaplain and an Episcopal priest, came face-to-face with immigration and labor issues in Mount Vernon the weekend the Flood of 2008 struck Iowa.

Quehl-Engel, who said she represents herself and not the college, spoke of the laborers who first spent nights in a Cornell dorm while helping with flood clean-up in Cedar Rapids and the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area. The workers, doing jobs for ServiceMaster, arrived June 15 and left June 22. Quehl-Engel said they were hired, many coming from Kansas City, by a temp agency known as SourceOne.

Quehl-Engel said she was “appalled by their ,” saying, for instance, that they were given debit cards for food that initially did not work, arrived without the proper gear to do their clean-up jobs, and started working without precautionary measures such as tetanus shots. She said workers reported not being paid minimum wage, and some said their paychecks had deductions for bus rides to work sites. When she and some Cornell College colleagues learned of such conditions, she said the business was presented and complied with a contract that, for instance, stipulated workers be paid minimum wage.

In fairness to the company that hired them, Quehl-Engel said the businesses were “overwhelmed” by the response needed to handle flood clean-up. Furthermore, she said they might have been treated better than other companies were treating their workers. Quehl-Engel said, for instance, that a person she met in Cedar Rapids, not with the business housing employees at Cornell, reported having to sleep under the bus that brought him to Cedar Rapids.

“These are the faces of Iowa’s flood crisis,” Quehl-Engel said.

Other religious leaders concurred. Also joining the call to media last week were Bi Alan Scarfe of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, Bi Steven L. Ullestad of Northeastern Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Bi Gregory Palmer of the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, and Rev. Julia Rendon of the Iowa Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Scarfe said he and Palmer went to Cedar Rapids with Quehl-Engle, describing the flood-ravaged areas as “the belly of a beast” with bad smells, filth and noise. He said one man they talked to, brought to Cedar Rapids to work, “actually thought he was in Chicago.”

Scarfe said the message from the religious leaders is, “you’re not going to get away with this.” He urges legislation to “bring decency” to immigrants and those brought here to help Iowa clean up.

The religious leaders also addressed labor issues in light of the May 12 raid at AgriProcessors in Postville. Ullestad, who grew up in Postville, said religious leaders in Postville described the raid as an “invasion” with roads closed, military-style helicopters flying overhead, and federal agents heavily armed. He said Postville will likely lose one-third of its population due to the raid.

Ullestad pointed out that only 5,000 immigrants without college degrees are allowed into the country each year, but that there’s a need for 10 times that many workers. That led to general discussion about the immigration changes religious leaders believe need to be made.

Palmer said some may wonder why religious leaders are addressing the issue when “you are not experts.”

He said their faith means caring for the most vulnerable and that they want to “lower the level of fear…that exists in any community.”

Quehl-Engel said she would like to see legislation that requires companies to be held accountable for the actions of any contractors they use to do their work.

Rendon said it’s “really a shame when our regulations and standards are ignored until casual passersby notice they’re being violate. We should not be depending on the good will of people whose job it is not to enforce (labor laws).”

Rep. Ro Foege, a Democrat from Mount Vernon, stepped in to help when questions about the of workers were raised in his community. He said when allegations were made that laborers weren’t being paid minimum wage, he called the labor commissioner.

He said he understands there are other concerns, such as workers being on the job for 15 or more hours a day. Unfortunately, he said, Iowa is an “at-will state,” and “if you want people to work 15 hours a day, you can if you get them to agree to it.”

The state will likely have a special legislative session to address flood-related issues. Foege said it’s unlikely the labor/immigration issues raised will be discussed.

But, he said he recognizes immigration matters need to be addressed by the state.

“It’s a huge, complex issue nationwide,” he said.



Group rallies against day laborer ordinance-Aurora, CO, 9 News


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AURORA CO– The Aurora City Council has voted to postpone a vote that nonprofits say would keep them from offering help to day laborers.


Monday night, supporters of El Centro Humanitario, a group that promotes the rights of day laborers, came out to rally against the ordinance. The proposed ordinance would change the definition of a “temporary employment agency” to include nonprofits and charitable organizations. If passed, these groups would have to stay 1,500 feet away from employment agencies.

Supporters of El Centro say the ordinance would make it difficult to provide education and other services to day laborers. Aurora City Councilwoman Deborah Wallace says the ordinance is designed to protect businesses. She says that people sometimes congregate outside employment agencies for as many as 10-hours a day.The city council will take up the issue again in two weeks.


Day labor program tries to make it work


Day labor program tries to make it work By Shauntel Lowe

Article Last Updated: 07/13/2008 12:01:30 AM PDT


A three-block stretch of Hearst Avenue in Berkeley has become like an urban waiting room full of patients without appointments, all hoping an elusive will soon return to fix their wounds.

These are the wounds of poverty, family and ill-fated business plans that pain the bodies and minds of the day laborers taking their seats on curbs and corners along the avenue each morning with hopes of securing work for the day.

The Multicultural Institute, a nonprofit foundation in Berkeley, through its Day Laborers Program, tries to help by matching workers with contractors and homeowners in need of some construction, gardening or painting.

The program helped set up just under 300 jobs for laborers in fiscal year 2007, said Institute Associate Director Paula Worby. The Institute also has a program in San Mateo County. Many of the laborers came to the United States from Mexico and Central America in search of a for the ills of their home countries. But these days there is no — no money — on Hearst Avenue. The mortgage crisis and slumping economy have radically altered the industry dynamic. They come to Hearst Avenue from all over, some even walking from Richmond for the chance to work. And they wait.

On Wednesday morning, there were no contractors cruising for workers by Truitt & White Lumber Co. at the corner of Second Street and Hearst. It is common for day laborers to congregate in industrial areas and around construction-related businesses to try and score work.

One day last week, Rudy Lara, program assistant for the Institute’s laborers’ program, said he had only coordinated one minor job the previous day.

So minor, in fact, that he couldn’t remember exactly what type of work it was. He doesn’t see that changing any time soon. “Probably it’s going to get worse and worse,” he said.

Lara said just a few years ago people would find work easily from contractors and renovating homeownersNot now. “Everybody stopped (hiring) at the same time,” he said.Alberto Moran, 20, who also works with the program, blamed high prices and layoffs for the lack of work.”Usually in the summer, business picks up. (Now) with the economy, it stays where it is,” he said So they wait. Jose Corado, 49, stood near the corner of Fourth Street and Hearst geared up to paint in a white T-shirt and paint-splattered white pants and a lifetime of painting experience.

The only thing missing was a job.

“It’s not established anything. It’s temporary everything,” he said.

Corado said it had been weeks since he last had a job, even with the Institute staff out every day trying to set him up.

Lara painted a picture of a kinship between the Institute and Truitt & White, with the lumber company’s patrons hiring many of the program’s day laborers.

But Dan White, co-owner of Truitt & White, said that has not been the case over the past 15 years.

White said the company conducted a survey of its customers several years ago.

“The universal response was that the contractors that here almost never use the day laborers,” he said. “Pretty much they’re just standing out there all day.”

Lara said right now, remodeling homeowners are laborers’ best bet for securing work, but even that is slow. Moran said some people try to take advantage of the perceived desperation of the workers — 75 percent are undocumented, according to one major study — and “try to get them for cheap.”

Institute associate director Worby said the program recommends a wage of $12 to $15 per hour for most work, noting that it does not contract with anyone but tries to connect laborers with employers free of charge.

“We’re not taking a cut of the money,” Worby said. “We recommend a wage.”

Jorge Solano, 45, said he came here from Guatemala 10 years ago to make money to send back to his sick wife and four children and hasn’t been back yet.

“They gotta come because over there they make so little,” said Solano in Spanish with Moran translating.Lara and Moran said times are very difficult now, but they will keep coming out and stand with those still waiting. ”You can only hope for the best,” said Moran.


Social activist led fight for day laborers’ rights

Social activist led fight for day laborers’ rights

FREEHOLD – Advocates for and members of Freehold Borough’s Latino community are mourning the loss of a person they called a leader in the fight for workers’ rights.

Alejandro Abarca, s 32, who lived in Freehold Borough between 2003 and 2007, ed died two weeks ago in Mexico from injuries he sustained in an automobile accident eight months ago in Mexico.

Frank Argote- Freyre, who chairs the Monmouth County chapter of the New Jersey Latino Leadership Alliance, remembered Abarca as the person who came forward and “pushed for the lawsuit” that was filed against the borough when municipal officials shut down a day laborers muster zone on Throckmorton Street on Dec. 31, 2003.

Earlier that year, Abarca, who was born in Mexico, had helped to form Casa Freehold, an advocacy organization for Latinos. Argote-Freyre said Abarca can be considered to be an “important figure historically in the area.”

Argote-Freyre said members of the alliance are mourning Abarca’s passing.

“He was a leader of the workers and fought for workers’ rights,” Argote-Freyre said. “It is a tragedy to lose someone like that.”

Steve Richter, of Philadelphia, and formerly of Freehold Borough, said Abarca was involved early on in the fight to reopen the muster zone.

“When our darkest hours were upon us, Alejandro was one of the first to come forward,” said Richter, who was an advocate for Freehold Borough’s Latino population. “He gave strength to others and made it easier for others who wanted to help the Latino community by laying the groundwork for them.”

Rita Dentino, a member of Casa Freehold, said she had been in contact with Abarca since his accident. She said he had undergone a number of spinal surgeries and died from complications of the most recent operation.

Dentino called Abarca a “leader” of workers in the area and a “social activist.”

According to Dentino, Abarca was a medical in Mexico. As a member of Casa Freehold, in addition to teaching English to immigrants, Abarca was responsible for teaching medical health issues to members of the Latino community.

“He was a person who wanted to unify everyone in the fight for social justice,” she said. “Although he was most visible to us in Freehold, Alejandro was involved in many social causes in other states as well. He helped to raise the level of awareness and education among people so that they would understand their


Dentino said Abarca was instrumental in helping to organize an alternate employment site for Freehold’s day laborers in 2004, following the closing of the muster zone.

A Mass was celebrated at St. Rose of Lima Church on June 26 and a memorial service remembering Abarca’s life was held on July 1. Abarca left the United States about a year ago to rejoin his wife in Mexico. He is survived by his wife and a 5-year-old son.