Study details struggles of city's day laborers

Advocates release report on workers with agencies, those who gather at store

December 23, 2004|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,SUN STAFF

Day laborers in Baltimore earn less than permanent employees doing the same work, receive inferior safety equipment and are often insulted and denied such basics as bathroom breaks, according to a study released yesterday by worker advocates.

With a search for a permanent community center for day laborers under way, the Latino advocacy group CASA of Maryland and the Homeless Person's Representation Project collaborated to produce a report called "A Fair Day's Pay for a Fair Day's Work: Sweating Day Laborers in Baltimore."

The report looks at the struggles of two kinds of day laborers. The two-year study polled 105 part-time labor pool workers who seek work at agencies around the city. And the study interviewed 20 immigrant day laborers who typically gather at the 7-Eleven parking lot at Broadway and Lombard Street seeking work.

Advocates estimated that there are 7,000 to 10,000 day laborers in the city working in jobs such as construction and cleaning bathrooms.

"These workers are invisible," said Todd Cherkis, a worker organizer for the Homeless Persons Representation Project who presented the report at a news conference at CASA of Maryland's Baltimore office in Washington Hill.

"They are hidden from the public eye, but they are working for some of the most prestigious companies in Baltimore."

The report names employers who, advocates say, abuse day workers, calling them "the five Grinches who stole the day laborers' Christmas."

CASA of Maryland filed a lawsuit against one of the employers -- Power Cleaning Solutions. The group filed the suit in June in Baltimore County Circuit Court on behalf of nine laborers who alleged that the company did not pay them.

George Oswinkle, an attorney for the defendants, said the workers were paid per day of work and were not due overtime money because their jobs lasted no more than eight hours. "And on several of the individuals, my clients asked for proper identification and immigration papers, and in some cases they were given phony documents," he said.

The study also makes recommendations to improve working conditions. The groups have started working with the city and other advocates to find a permanent day laborer center, which would contract with employers who promise to pay a fair wage and agree to certain conditions. The center would also offer job training and other resources.

In the long term, the groups want greater city resources devoted to prosecuting employers who mistreat workers. In addition, the groups want day laborer agencies to be licensed and day laborer employers to be contracted with the city.

"We come here with the hope and desire to find work to support ourselves and to send money back home to our families," said Jorge Zavala, who spoke at the news conference about his working experiences. He said he was an accountant in his native Honduras before coming to the United States seeking a better life. "All we are seeking is honorable work for a fair price."

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