Working to Provide Opportunities for Economic Mobility and Security 

By Osman Ahmed

Day laborers – men and women looking for employment in open-air markets by the side of the road, at busy intersections, in front of home improvement stores, and in other public areas are a common sight in most major cities throughout the United States. Day laborers provide an essential service to the labor market in the United States at large, and particularly NYC, by meeting the demand for an affordable, flexible, and skilled on-call workforce for construction, landscaping, domestic work, and home improvement industries. Day laborers also play a vital role in disaster relief and reconstruction efforts as evidenced in New York City after Hurricane Sandy where day labor brigades played a vital role in recovery for frontline communities. Due to the informal nature of day laborer market, day laborers are vulnerable to many threats on the job – workplace injuries, exposure to dangerous or toxic workplace conditions, harassment from employers and law enforcement authorities, unregulated work hours, lack of access to legal and other support services and rampant wage theft. These vulnerabilities are further exacerbated with proliferation of anti-immigration policies and predatory practices of the current federal regime.

In this political climate of rampant xenophobia and anti-labor sentiment, New York City has taken a significant step towards ensuring that the city is a true sanctuary for immigrant workers. For the fourth consecutive year, and under the new leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson, the New York City Council has enhanced funding for the Day labor Workforce Initiative (DLWI). The Council elected to increase funding for DLWI from $1.47 million in Fiscal Year 2018 to $1.97 million in Fiscal Year 2019. The Initiative is composed of five organizations, all of which have a long history of working with immigrant communities, that serve day laborers by providing job placement and dispatching, workforce development trainings, wage theft reclamation, and many other crucial services. The Initiative also funds the creation of day labor centers where jobs and services can be dispatched and where day laborer’s can congregate in dignified spaces. Since July 2015 the Initiative partners have opened three new centers while making much-needed upgrades to existing centers in Jackson Heights (Queens) and Bensonhurst (Brooklyn).

In addition to supporting DLWI in FY19, the Council has also provided funding for day labor centers to conduct construction safety trainings in light of the newly created Local Law 196. This law was created to address the recent rise of fatal construction accidents in NYC, since 2013 alone there have been 92 construction related deaths in the city. These construction fatalities disproportionally affect immigrant workers, especially Latino construction workers, and have been severely impacted the day labor community. Local Law 196 mandates 40-45 hours of construction safety trainings for all workers on construction projects upwards of 10 floors in New York City, increasing the federal mandate of 10 hours of training. The City Council has correctly identified that these increased trainings hours will be difficult to access for a significant number of construction workers in NYC, specifically immigrant workers and day laborers due to the cost of these trainings and language access, among other reasons. Day labor centers have become one of the main sites for training workers that are most impacted by construction safety accidents as well as information related to the rollout of the law. These centers are now planning to train thousands of workers in construction safety over the next year. However, training is not the only solution to curb the spate of construction accidents – better regulation of construction sites and enforcement of existing safety laws via regular and rigorous inspections are also necessary to ensure the safety of workers.

As a member and advocacy lead for DLWI, FPWA will continue to work with our city’s elected officials to create better policies and programs that not only ensure the safety of immigrant and low-income workers but provides opportunities for economic mobility and security.

Osman Ahmed is a Senior Policy Analyst at FPWA.