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Formalizing Day Labor Markets: Worker Centers and Worker Integration

  • Author(s): González, Ana Luz;
  • Advisor(s): Valenzuela, Abel;
  • et al.

This dissertation examines several aspects of day work from the worker's perspective and the organizations created to mitigate conflict surrounding day labor practices. I use the 2004 National Day Labor Study to compare worker characteristics and labor market outcomes by type of hiring site, investigate factors associated with site preference, and identify obstacles to and challenges of formalizing a day labor hiring site. I draw on qualitative data to investigate the efficacy of worker centers in three areas: labor market outcomes, the mitigation of abuse and hazards, and the civic integration of workers into the communities in which they work and live.

The following four research questions guide this study: (1) What are the worker and labor market outcomes of day laborers who frequent informal sites compared to those who frequent worker centers? (2) Are worker centers improving the labor market outcomes of day laborers, mitigating abuses and hazards, and engaging workers civically? (3) What explains a worker's selection of a particular site? (4) Finally, what are some of the obstacles to and challenges of formalizing a day labor site?

My findings show that the conditions and outcomes of workers at informal sites differ significantly by key variables compared to day laborers at worker centers. Instances of employer abuse in the form of wage theft, and merchant and police abuse in the form of insults and threats also differ significantly by site type, suggesting better outcomes for day laborers who search for work at worker centers. My findings demonstrate that worker centers help protect workers from wage theft and abuse, and that they also encourage the civic engagement of participants.

My analysis on site preference demonstrates that a worker's level of civic engagement and higher age increase the probability of choosing a worker center over an informal site. Channeling workers to worker centers and promoting civic engagement provide an important pathway for those whose immigration status, education, and occupational levels might otherwise predispose them to living in the shadows.

Lastly, utilizing a case study approach (including focus group interviews) that observes day laborers in Santa Monica, California, I identify best practices and challenges of formalizing day labor hiring sites. I find that most workers support worker centers but have mixed views on the effectiveness of the job dispatch process and the setting of wage minimums. Respondents identified obstacles in meeting the needs of day laborers including funding, infrastructure and administration, community and worker support, and employer demand for work and workforce development. I conclude by proffering policy solutions and ideas for future research.

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