A Time for Change: Day Laborer Treatment

“Few in our society are as vulnerable as recent immigrants who seek work on a day-to-day basis and have limited English proficiency.”    

            – NJ Governor’s Advisory Panel on Immigration Policy

“It’s a hard life…. We’re just looking for work. We need more people with good hearts who know why we’re here.”

            – Newark Ironbound day laborer

In August 2010 Seton Hall Law School released a report entitled Ironbound Underground which documented that in Newark’s East Ward 96% of local immigrant day laborers have been victims of wage theft, 27% assaulted by an employer, 80% not given safety equipment, and 20% hurt on the job. Then in January 2011 the Law School issued All Work and No Pay in which it expanded its research to Elizabeth, Freehold, Morristown, Orange, Flemington, Bridgeton, and Palisades Park. There it documented among day laborers 48% not paid, 54% underpaid, 26% injured, 35% abandoned and 26% assaulted.

Ironbound Underground concluded, “Our findings demonstrate a staggering degree of workplace violations and exploitation of day laborers by local employers in violation of federal and state law, resulting in a loss of dignity for the day laborer population and a loss of revenue to the public. Yet the day laborers in Newark have found few effective avenues to address the violations of their rights.” The more extensive All Work No Pay concludes: “Community organizations, municipal courts, prosecutors, and state and local officials all have essential parts to play in enforcing labor standards and further safeguarding the rights of workers.”  

With the current tough economy the number of day laborers is increasing, and they are not only immigrants. Local officials should establish hiring halls for day laborers, as they decrease worker abuse. State legislators, in particular the Labor Committee chairs Sen. Fred Madden and Assemblyman Joseph Egan, and Judiciary Committee Chairs Sen. Nicholas Scutari and Assemblyman Peter Barnes, should draft new legislation. Bill S1588, which seeks to set up a division to investigate and address disparities and civil rights violations suffered by immigrants, could be a start. The All Work No Pay report recommends that New Jersey’s Wage Theft statute be updated and include standardization of the procedure which allows workers to file complaints directly with municipal courts, criminal sanctions against employers who retaliate against employees who file complaints, and sufficient fines and damages to deter wage theft.

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  1. Jay Lassiter
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