Nightmare for Baltimore’s Day Laborers

March 2005 / Abell Reports / Community Development, Workforce Development

Their exploitation in the marketplace is too costly in both economic and humane terms. The facts, and recommendations.

Day laborers are persons employed temporarily, anywhere from one day to several months, in jobs that typically require manual labor. Nationwide, employers are increasingly turning to this temporary workforce to meet their employment needs and the costs of wages and benefits. In Baltimore, approximately 7,000 to 10,000 workers are employed as day laborers, providing a supply of temporary workers to construction contractors, warehouses, restaurants, cleaning companies, hospitals, convention centers and stadiums. Employers find these workers in Baltimore by contracting with “labor pools” (temporary staffing agencies that engage and transport primarily African-American men to job sites) or by negotiating employment terms with Latino immigrant workers on street corners.

With a grant from The Abell Foundation, CASA of Maryland (CASA) and the Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP) initiated and authored Baltimore’s Day Laborer Report: Their Stolen Sweat, to chronicle the experiences of Baltimore’s African-American and Latino day laborers. HPRP conducted 105 interviews with a random selection of workers drawn proportionately from the four largest labor pools in Baltimore City: TOPS, Labor Ready, Just Temps / Personnel Plus, and Ready Staffing. CASA conducted 20 interviews with Latino day laborers and a focus group discussion with 16 Latino day laborers. Based on these interviews, CASA and HPRP found that:

  1. Both immigrant and African-American day laborers are underpaid for their work, typically earning far less than permanent employees performing the same duties.
  2. Day laborers are at greater risk to injury on construction jobs than the full-time employees working beside them. Day laborers experience a higher injury rate; the workers interviewed reported that they do not receive the same safety equipment as full-time employees.
  3. Day laborers suffer frequent mistreatment on the job. The workers interviewed recalled verbal assaults from supervisors, being required to perform repugnant and dangerous work that permanent employees reject, and being denied breaks for water and food. Many labor pool halls and worksites lack restrooms and access to water.

Baltimore City should provide Baltimore’ day laborers with a safe location to find jobs, receive workplace-rights education, health and safety training, and to develop their skills. The City should establish and enforce employment standards for both labor pool companies and employers who hire day laborers.