Mythbusters about day laborers

The myths surrounding day laborers are not new. Many people have misconceptions about this hardworking group of people who make up part of our communities and neighborhoods.

Voz is a worker-led non-profit organization that empowers diverse day laborers and immigrants to improve their working conditions and protect civil rights through leadership development, organizing, education, and economic opportunity. We fight for a community where all immigrants and all workers can thrive!

Marvin Peña

Today we will bust four common myths about day laborers, and show how valuable their contributions to Portland and the entire country!

#1 Day laborers steal jobs

Day laborers don’t steal jobs, on the contrary, they form their own economy! Day laborers are hired for temporary manual labor jobs that no other workers fill. For many homeowners or small businesses, it only takes a day or a weekend to finish up a project. Day laborers are the perfect employees for these jobs.

In some ways, day laborers are the original gig economy workers. Like ride-share drivers or food delivery service drivers, day laborers make up part of the informal economy that is becoming a larger and more significant part of the job market.

Like other gig economy work, day labor is hardly lucrative. Even when the hourly rate is high, day laborers have no job security and no guaranteed source of future income. At Voz, we work to improve the working conditions for day labor. We help to create new jobs by improving the working conditions for day labor. We help to guarantee a fair minimum wage and offer labor protections that lift up all low-income workers by raising the floor for wages and labor practices. Far from stealing jobs, day laborers make our economy stronger.

#2 Day laborers don’t contribute to the community

Wrong! Day laborers contribute to the community in so many ways. Day laborers are parents, artists, volunteers, community members, and taxpayers. Stereotypes about day laborers portray them as loners, as outsiders, and as harming the community. These myths could not be farther from the truth.

Over 40% of day laborers have lived in the United States for more than six years, and they are actively involved in our communities. More than half of day laborers attend church, and many are active in sports clubs, volunteer groups, and local nonprofits – including Voz! Six out of ten day laborers are parents – which makes it even more urgent for them to earn living wages to support their families.

Another common misconception is that day laborers, and other immigrant communities don’t pay taxes. In fact, the most recent data from the IRS shows they received 4.4 billion in taxes from people without a valid Social Security number. That money funds programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid that individuals without a valid Social Security number cannot even access.

Day laborers are already part of our communities, and they give back in so many different ways. At Voz, day laborers participate in community cleanups and plant trees around the City. If you want to get to know your day laborer neighbors, come and volunteer or practice your Spanish at Voz!

#3 Day laborers are unskilled

Wrong again! Day laborers come from all different walks of life, which means they have a variety of skills to offer to employers and the community. Many day laborers had full careers in their home countries before migrating to the United States. Their skills range from landscaping to accounting, to construction, to Ph.D. holding professors, to roofing, farming, health care workers, and more.

Unfortunately, for many people, their career experience means nothing in the context of the US job market. Worker Centers like Voz’s MLK Jr. Worker Center serves as an entry point to the local workforce, as a place to transition to a more stable job, or as a hub to connect to fair wage temporary jobs if workers face barriers to full-time employment. In addition to the skills that day laborers bring with them, Voz provides workforce development trainings to build job skills and connect day laborers to higher paying jobs.

Whatever job you are looking for, we know a day laborer who has the right skills. And next time you hire through the Worker Center, you never know, the person you hired for landscaping might also be a poet, a doctor, or a teacher!

#4 Hiring day laborers is exploitative

It is not exploitative! When you hire a day laborer, you contribute not just to the worker, but his/her family and at the same time create awareness in our community about the role of day laborers and how valuable their contribution is.

Day labor only becomes exploitative when employers have bad intentions and choose to cause harm by denying wages, denying breaks, or denying necessary protection for dangerous jobs. At Voz, we facilitate relationships between day laborers and employers to make sure everyone understands the expectations for the job, that day laborers will be working under safe conditions, and that they will be paid a fair wage. Our organization tries to ensure that day laborers work under safe conditions and they are treated fairly. We empower day laborers to advocate for themselves, and provide education to employers when they have questions.

Hiring a day labor is a way to dignify their work and provide a source of income for these workers and their families. When you hire at the Worker Center, you are not just helping the worker, you are part of the solution for improving day labor working conditions and building economic and social power for the entire day laborer community!