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Day Laborers: Building with Hearts and Hands

Posted on April 25, 2019 by Catholic Charities Admin  |  Share

Catholic Charities Creates Community & Hope

By Juan Pablo Morales, Catholic Charities Day Laborers Program Bronx Coordinator 

It’s 5:50 a.m. on a chilly early spring morning and I’m riding my bike to the office of Catholic Charities in the Bronx. Today is Saturday and today Catholic Charities is providing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training to workers participating in our Day Laborer Program. When I park my bike outside our metal office door at 6 am, there are more than 250 people outside our agency just to catch a spot on our waiting list. The need is immense.

Sleeping on Subways Before Leaving for Work

As I screen the line with my eyes, I can see at least two workers who slept in the train at nighttime. They wake up every day before rush hour from the rocking movement of the subway and go to search for a job. However tight their situation, they don’t want a hand out, they want work.

A day laborer is a person looking for employment in open-air markets by the side of the road, at busy intersections, in front of home improvement stores, and in other public areas. They are the people you see waiting on corners or parking lots waiting for someone to give them a temporary job.

Being a day laborer brings its own challenges. A day laborer never knows if he or she is going to get a job today, and if and when the job comes, will there be a job tomorrow?

Exploiting the Vulnerable

In the South Bronx, 99-percent of day laborers are immigrants. This also brings its own particular challenges. Since most are undocumented, they are vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation, discrimination and injustice. According to NYC Comptroller’s office, there are about 88,000 foreign-born construction workers in NYC.

Building Dignity; Building Hope

We began registration for this particular training at 9 am sharp. By 9:15 we had given away/signed up people for the 60 spots we had allocated in our budget for the entire month. After those fifteen intense minutes of registration, we kept receiving hundreds of calls asking for training.

We’re forced to answer “Sorry, we don’t have any spots left for the upcoming training, our next training will be on…”

Even though our list was full we let the callers know the situation.

My immigrant siblings are struggling to be part of this community, this city and this country. Their battle is uphill, but there’s no lack of dignity.

I know firsthand several day laborers who rise with the sun, show up at their work site or at the “Parada” (corner) to be productive for themselves, their families and the economy. They keep trying to get work and improve their families’ lives even after unscrupulous contractors steal their wages, taking advantage of their precarious situation such as lack of documents, not speaking English and no means for legal advice.  One hundred percent – that’s right; 100% - of day laborers participating in our program have had a wage theft experience at least once.

In the line, I spot a mother with her 8-month baby and her 9-year-old daughter. She showed up early for her spot on the waiting line.  She doesn’t want to lose her chance.

By the end of the four-day training, we have shared four days with the baby, the daughter and the mother. It’s humanely refreshing to see all the construction workers taking turns holding the baby during the training.

During the training we all learn a lot more than on-the-job safety, and we earn so much more than the OSHA-30 license. We come to realize that even in this crazy world there is a place for trusting and being trusted, a place to build with our hands and our hearts and a way to make this community a place for hope.

Check out Catholic Charities NY’s extensive services for day laborers