First Responders for Reconstruction

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis speaks with day laborers volunteering for the clean up and rebuilding on Staten Island. Photo Credit: US Department of Labor

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has left many on the slow road of rebuilding. While waiting for FEMA to come to their aid, help has come from their fellow neighbors.

Undocumented day laborers have become an integral part of the reconstruction process. These day laborers are not migrant workers traveling to conduct repairs, but neighbors who are also struggling to recover from the storm as well. For years, day laborers have lived and worked in New York as key members of home remodeling, landscaping and construction. But in this time of crisis they have stepped up as reliable and relevant members of the rebuilding community.

Abuse and negligence are common obstacles day laborers face, especially after natural disasters. After the events of September 11, day laborers that worked at Ground Zero were exposed to toxic gases due to a lack of proper safety measures. Many who were exposed have experienced serious health complications or even death.

This time around, efforts are being made to avoid past mistakes. About 2,500 safety kits, comprised of helmets, masks, gloves, goggles and reflective jackets have been distributed to labor groups representing workers in Long Island, New York City and New Jersey. Programs started by organizations, such as the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, have worked to raise awareness among day laborers about their rights to a safe workplace environment.

NDLON is also working toward a lobbying campaign to protect day laborers from being excluded from immigration reform.

Day labor work is the sole source of income for many laborers, who spend five or more days a week searching for work. Due to the nature of their work, they do not have consistent employers and therefore would not be able to confirm their work positions. Current immigration reform proposals include a requirement for undocumented workers to confirm that they have a job. This creates an impossible predicament for day laborers and domestic workers.

If you are looking for assistance in hurricane relief, here is a list of day labor centers.

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