Learn About Day Laborers

Who are Day Laborers?

Day laborers are low-wage workers whose employment is established on a temporary basis. They usually perform difficult tasks such as hauling debris, construction, painting, roofing and landscaping. Day Laborers are among the most economically vulnerable of the immigrant community due to irregular and strenuous work, unsafe working conditions and unscrupulous employers, and typical wages that fall far below the poverty level. Their high visibility often places them on the front-line of anti-immigrant backlash.

The majority of Portland day laborers are Latino men, who have emigrated here due to economic, social, and political problems in their home countries However, with the current economic crisis, we have seen a growing number of non-Latino men join the day labor community, including immigrants from other regions of the world, Native Americans, and white Americans. Day laborers are a highly mobile population as they move from place to place in search of work. Many do not speak English, and some do not speak Spanish but rather an indigenous language. VOZ recognizes that its constituency operates within the larger context of a global community.

Issues Faced by Day Laborers:

As part of the informal economy, day laborers face many unique challenges, including:

  • Unpredictable employment
  • Exploitive employers and non-payment of wages
  • Homelessness
  • Lack of language skills and culture shock
  • Dangerous and difficult working conditions
  • Incidents of harassment by local authorities

Why Has the Number of Day Laborers Increased in the Last Decade?

The increase of day laborers in Portland is the consequence of globalization and US economic and political foreign policy. Like many cities, Portland has a need for temporary and unskilled workers a need chiefly met by the growing immigrant community. According to Census figures, the Latino population in Multnomah County alone has grown by 170% in the past ten years. Latino immigrant workers are a crucial part of Portland’s urban and rural economies, yet most have little or no stability in their jobs.

Like the rest of the country, Oregon is currently suffering from the devastating impact of the economic downturn, but as the state with the one of the highest levels of unemployment in the country, many of our workers are facing higher levels of poverty. Furthermore, immigrants across the country are experiencing an increase in hate crimes due to high levels of fear and antagonism felt in the US today. Day Laborers form a valuable and productive workforce and have the right to dignified and humane working conditions.

How Does VOZ Work with Day Laborers?

The networking and leadership development that VOZ promotes facilitates day laborers taking an active role in the social change necessary to overcome global problems that affect their daily lives. VOZ 1) advocates to secure and promote day laborers’ rights locally and nationally, 2) develops leadership in the day laborer community, and 3) educates the local community about day laborers.

Research and Reports

There are many reports and a growing body of research about the day laborers. Here are some select resources.

On the Corner – the definitive national day laborer study

Occupational Health Day Labor Report