Illegal or not, homeowners say the day laborer system works

  • Updated: April 29, 2006 - 12:36 PM

BURBANK, Calif.— Chris James needed help moving a piano and three dozen boxes of records from his music studio, but instead of corralling some buddies he rented a truck and hired day laborers outside the local Home Depot.

The two Guatemalan men finished the job in an hour and a half, hauling a piano and wedging a sofa into his condo, then stacking the boxes in a back room, for less than $40.

It was first time James hired day laborers but it won't be his last.

"Absolutely satisfied,'' said James, 31.

The No. 1 employers of day laborers, many of whom are illegal immigrants, are homeowners — not construction contractors, not professional landscapers.

"Day labor is not a niche market,'' said Abel Valenzuela, a UCLA professor and one of three authors of the first national day labor study, which was released in January. "It's now entering different aspects of the national mainstream economy.''

Forty-nine percent of day labor employers are homeowners, according to 2,660 laborers interviewed for the study. Contractors were second, at 43 percent. The study also found that three quarters of day laborers were illegal immigrants and most were from Latin America.

Homeowners like the men who call themselves "jornaleros'' because they make up a flexible labor pool with no red tape and no overhead. And they'll do backbreaking jobs much cheaper than regular contractors.

Day laborers like homeowners, too. Shady contractors routinely stiff them. Not homeowners — the workers know where they live.

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