Hiring Day Laborers

Archived Responses: 

Help from Multicultural Institute's Life Skills program

March 2005

Editor note: The non-profit Multicultural Institute provides homeowners and contractors with assistance in hiring day laborers. It is not a job placement agency. See http://www.mionline.org/article.php?id=91 for more information.

My name is Tony Lacayo , I am the director for the Life Skllls Program, one of the programs the Multicultural Institute, a none profit organization, offers to the community. Under this program is the Job Placement Assistance, which through this program we have been working with the Day Laborer population at Hearst' Corridor for the last 2 years and half. One of our main objectives is to create bridges between those who need to hire a day labor for a few or some days of work and the day laborer. We are not a job agency, but we a bridge connection between you and the day laborer. For information,please contacts us at, 510-847-8714 or 848-4075 ext 10. or visit our website www.mionline.org
Sincerely Tony Lacayo Life Skills Program Director tony AT mionline.org

Not paying workman's comp for day laborers

Nov 2004

Help! Today, a Contra Costa County DA's office investigator followed my landscaper (who had just picked up two day laborers in Concord) to my house. The landscaper was droping off the laborers to work on my backyard. Apparently the DA's office is trying to crack down on contractors/home owners who don't pay workman's comp.

I'm obviously concerned that 1) I will be fined and 2) I could be prosecuted. So many people in the Bay Area use day laborers for work, and don't pay workman's comp. How can you pay workman's comp to someone who is here illegally and does not have a social security number? I pay the workers a good wage, provide them drinks, snacks and buy lunch if I'm able to. I also am concerned about their well being - making sure they take breaks, come under the patio when it rains, and tipping them above their wage. Yet, I don't pay workman's comp for their safety. Am I in deep trouble with the law here? Will they (DA's office) make an ''example'' out of a suburban house-mom and prosecute me? Does anyone have any experience with this sort of situation. I want to do the right thing

First of all.. it's against the law to hire undocumented workers. Why? Because, you, the employer are not paying the state the money it will use to cover that employee if he/she gets injured on the job. All employers are supposed to pay workman's comp.. it's the law. It's there to protect the worker. It's that simple.

If you say you want to do the right thing, then higher a landscaper who only hires legal workers. Why is your landscaper picking up workers anyway? Is he your middleman? Do you pay him and then he pays the workers? If that's the case.. you can bet the workers are not being paid very well. You say you pay the workers a good wage.. and if you really do pay them directly .. is your wage good enough so that the worker has something to 'fall back on' if he/she hurts themselves at your house? And big deal if you provide them with a snack and make sure they take their breaks.. does that mean if you're not around they go without breaks and have no lunch?

So what if everyone does it, that's the problem. The undocumented come here to work.. and many, many, many of them do get injured on the job and you and I and every taxpayer in the state gets stuck with the bill when they go to the hospital. Wonder why healthcare is so expensive, wonder why hospitals are closintg down ER's. It's because of the huge number of people without any protection.. w/out workman's comp coming in for treatment. If there's no workman's comp to pay for their treatment.. where do the facilities get their money from?? Us, the taxpayers!!

Your portrail of yourself as a ''suburban house-mom'' is no cause for pity. Oh.. you may very well get hit with a big fine.. and depending on how nasty the DA is feeling.. you could get prosecuted. That would be justice. Remember, you are BREAKING THE LAW! ANON

If you're a homeowner, check with your insurance rep - my home owners insurance carries a rider for employing this type of non-regular employee... If i were to hire a ''regular'' employee to perform services for me on an on-going basis, e.g., a housekeeper, then I'd need to get a different rider/policy to cover him/her. SOME rules are there for a reason
As an employer (and yes, you are an employer when you hire day laborers) you are responsible for providing workers' compensation for your workers. A better way, which will not be quite as cheap, is to hire your workers from a firm like Labor Ready, which does pay workers' compensation for their employees.

Illegal is illegal. Sorry. workers' compensation professional

That's a complex question that you're asking. As a landscaper and former employer, I'll do my best to help you sort it out.

First off, you can't pay Workers Comp for someone who is not a payroll employee, and you can't put an illegal worker on a payroll. The DA's office is actually more interested in the issue of payroll taxes not being paid than the are in the Workers Comp issue. Your landscaper may have been followed randomly, or he/she may already be under investigation for not doing a legal payroll. Or, the landscaper may be under investigation for something else, like not paying child support.

It is your landscaper who is primarly breaking the law by hiring/providing illegal laborers. Workers Comp is very expensive these days, payroll taxes are not cheap for an employer, and he/she is obviously trying to avoid those expenses by using illegal workers. He/she may justify it as saving you money on the cost of the job, although it is likely increasing his/her profit as well.

You don't say whether you are paying the workers directly, or if you pay the landscaper who in turn pays them- ? If it is the former, you hold more liability than if it is the latter. If the landscaper is paying them, you are pretty much off the hook legally, but your ethical concerns are well-founded.

If a worker is hurt on the job, their employer (whether they are employed legally or not) is responsible for all of that person's medical treatment, lost wages, vocational rehabilitation, and in the worst case scenario, survivor benefits. However, few illegals are going to claim these rights, since they know that it will lead to deportation. This puts the employer of illegals in a very powerful, and unfair, position.

Yes, many many contractors do this, and they do it primarily to save money and increase their profits. They also do it because customers want to pay as low a price as possible for a job, and it is a very competitive market out there for contractors. By hiring illegals (or any under the table workers) they can lower their price and still increase their profit.

Another reason that contractors hire illegal workers, which I can say as a former employer in this field, is that it is quite difficult to find good labor to hire. Most native born Americans look down on it and don't want to do it. And foreign born people who are eligible for citizenship are eligible because they have well-paying marketable skills and permanent job prospects. Those guys who stand out there on the street corner waiting for work are not well educated, they are from cultures where physical work is a part of everyday life, and they have come here at great risk because it is so hard to make a living in their home countries. Most live here separated from their families, who they send most of their wages to.

Now for my little editorial, and I am not directing this to you- I admire your ethics and intentions to do the right thing. This is a gripe of mine as a licensed contractor who does everything legally (i.e. expensively= high overhead). Many homeowners want the cheapest price for a job and don't want to think about what makes that price possible. Cheap, under the table labor labor is a major way to cut the cost of a job. Of course there are other ways as well that the homeowner pays for in the end, such as using low quality materials, not fully studying the job before bidding it and then presenting expensive change orders, etc. Not carrying liability insurance (expensive, not required by law) is another way, but it leaves the homeowner unprotected if there is immediate or eventual damage to their property as a result of the job. If a homeowner chooses to do so, there are ways to investigate all these things before choosing a contractor, and to take them into account rather than grabbing the cheapest price.

(Second editorial: the laws regarding workers like these need to be changed! They are filling a need, and in work like this they are not in reality taking jobs from Americans who don't want to do the work anyway. There needs to be a way for them to come here temporarily to work and to have their health and rights protected. They are the people at the bottom of the heap who are being carelessly sprayed by pesticides in agricultural work.)

You will probably get some replies that will tell you not to worry because your homeowners policy covers you for Workers Comp in situations like this. But I'm not so sure that it does in the case of illegals. You can talk with your insurance broker, but they may not know the answer and they may not be willing to get into it since it could put them in the position of advising you to do something illegal.

Finally, I would suggest that you speak to your landscaper about this issue and see how he/she responds- it will give you some clues to their overall honesty, professionalism, and competence. If you have come to feel uneasy about them over this or any other issues, I'd advise reviewing your contract with them and making sure that you are in fact getting what you are paying for. Cecelia

I'm not sure, but it seems to me that the D.A. is going after your landscaper, NOT you. Your landscaper is the person who is supposed to pay worker's comp for his employees in case they get injured on the job.

You should also realize that Worker's Comp Ins. in California is VERY VERY high. It's one thing, as you say, to want to give employees breaks, lunch, a fair wage: what about paying 36% of their wage to the California State Fund, on top of other fees. It means paying an add'l $3.50 an hour, for example, to the govt for every hour for each employee on your site.

It's about money. Please check with your landscaper. I'm sure he is the target, not you. He may have unreported employees and that's a shame, because if they get injured, they really are out of luck. construction office worker

Hiring laborers - how to treat them

May 2004

We are remodeling our house for the first time. The experience of having many workers around is new to us. I was wondering what most people provide them with. Bottles of water? Sodas? Coffee? Cookies? Bathroom? Gratuities? The first day I offered them coffee, but they declined, so I've just been letting them do their work without interrupting them. I would appreciate any advice on what is expected. Thanks! Remodeler

Good question! When we have hired day laborers we provide a cooler with sodas & waters, a radio, and lunch (pizza, burgers, mexican). We have always negotiated an hourly rate up front and then usually add a little extra. Susan
When we have workers here I often offer them some kind of treat in the afternoon, especially in hot weather. Nothing too fancy-- anything from cold lemonade, cookies/milk to ice-cream sandwiches. They work so hard I feel like it is the least we can do. I leave the food for them in the space that they are working so that they can take whatever it is as they please. They always seem most appreciative. lisa
Our motto is: a happy laborer is a hard working laborer. We've hired day laborers on several occassions and always offer them water, sodas, snacks and use of the bathroom. We hire them through Manos (in Oakland) and, since they are invariably good workers, pay them more than the requested $13/hour. I always offer them a ride to BART or bus at the end of the day. Patrick

Hiring day laborers for moving help

April 2004

We will be moving in a few weeks and can do about 80% of it ourselves. However, we have a number of pieces of furniture that will be tough for the two of us to move as they are heavy and we will have a toddler running around. I always notice guys down in the 4th street area looking for day jobs and thought perhaps we could hire several of them for a couple of hours to help my husband with the heavy stuff. Any recommendations on how to do this respectfully, ethically and legally? Can I just drive up and ask if anyone is interested in the job (I speak Spanish), or is there some sort of person unofficially in charge? Fair wages for this sort of job? Any other hints? thanks

Response to person considering hiring day laborers along 4th street for move: the Multicultural Institute (which I believe is associated with St Joseph's the Worker Church) runs a day laborer program from a van near 4th street. (Last time I looked it was parked on Hearst near the railroad tracks.) They keep a list of workers with their skills, and can help you hire a worker and negotiate a fair wage. I would stop there first. Dan