Ligia Guallpa is the daughter of Ecuadorean immigrants. She still remembers the struggles her parents faced as day laborers in New York City. They worked long hours but barely made enough money to support her and her younger sister. At one point, the family lived in a single room because they could not afford a bigger place.
“This is the experience that continues to happen even today,” she said. “Families of hardworking men and women are still struggling for survival.”
But a new investment by the New York City Council might help improve the quality of life of day laborers and their families. The Council announced Monday it will invest half a million dollars for the expansion and development of day laborer centers in New York City, a move hailed by Guallpa and other day laborer advocates as historic.
The funds for the day labor centers will be allocated in fiscal year 2016 through the Day Laborer Initiative. At these centers, day laborers will be provided a space to meet and be connected to employers in need of workers. They’ll also be educated on how to recover lost wages as well benefit from a number of services, such as workforce training and development.
“This community of workers has never been recognized and has never been valued in terms of the contributions that they make to the city,” Guallpa said. “So it’s very historic to see that finally the New York City Council is recognizing their contributions—and what a better way to do it than to make a huge investment.”
Guallpa is now the executive director of the Worker’s Justice Project. Her group runs the Bay Parkway Community Job Center in Brooklyn, one of the first and oldest day laborer centers in New York City. Day laborers go there to be connected to employers seeking workers. The center also helps day laborers know their rights, as well as fight for better pay and work conditions.
Speaking at the Bay Parkway Community Job Center on Monday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced the $500,000 investment and noted that day laborers “play a fundamental role in the construction, development and growth of our great city.”
“Beyond their hard work day in and day out, these laborers contribute so much to the vibrancy and richness of New York,” said Mark-Viverito, a Puerto Rican New Yorker who is the city's first Hispanic City Council Speaker. “The funding for this initiative will continue to validate these centers as epicenters of workforce development for this community of workers.”
There are currently between 8,000 to 10,000 day laborers in New York City, according to the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. Many of them are recently arrived immigrants, are undocumented and speak very little English. Some also are also New York City residents with legal status.
They can search for work in any of the four day laborer centers that currently exist in New York City. The Bronx and Manhattan are two areas in the city where there aren’t any day laborer centers, leaving many day laborers from those areas to congregate and search for work on street corners or outside of stores, such as Home Depot.
Even though day laborers are protected under the same laws that protect other workers in the United States, they are often victims of wage theft and subjected to hazardous work conditions. Many of them also make little money despite working long hours.
Advocates are hopeful that the half a million-dollar investment by the New York City Council will empower day laborers and improve their work conditions.