As the American economy continues its eleven-year boom, employers proceed to replace standard employees with day laborers and contingent workers. However, recent studies indicate that employers have been exploiting this increasing source of cheap labor, by failing to provide standard working benefits and sufficient living wages. Barbara Ehrenreich, a well known author and journalist, discusses in her book, Nickel and Dimed, this exploitation of contingent workers and describes from personal experience, "I don't know how my coworkers survive on their wages or what they make of our hellish condition" (Ehrenreich 89).
Throughout her book, Ehrenreich demonstrates how her fellow employees are forced to endure work-related injuries and poor health, while barely surviving on the below minimum wage that they make. Today, research shows that despite legal minimum wages and hour protections afforded to standard and nonstandard workers by the government, employers continue to abuse their hired labor by deducting fees and denying proper working benefits that include breaks, compensation, time off, and health insurance. As a result, the growing number of contingent workers across the country are forced to tolerate violations of their civil rights, employment and labor rights, and health and safety rights (Gutierrez 1).
On July 24, 2003, Congressman Luis Gutierrez introduced the 'Day Labor Fairness and Protection Act,' which not only recognizes the seriousness of these issues, but functions as the first federal law to address the specific workplace needs of contingent workers by seeking to protect and expand the wage and hour rights of laborers, guaranteeing first amendment rights, ensuring safe and healthy working conditions, in addition to defining key terms relating to day laborers. Therefore, the 'Day Labor Fairness and Protection Act' is clearly the best proposal in pending – primarily because it increases minimum wage to a legal and fair amount and enforces working rights and benefits, while ensuring safe and appropriate working environments for all contingent employees.
Historically, employers have relied on day laborers – defined by the 'Day Laborer Fairness and Protection Act' as "individual[s] who [are] engaged in or waiting to be engaged in day labor," or anyone who is involved with "labor or employment that is occasional or irregular for which an individual is employed for not longer than the time period required to complete the assignment for which the individual was hired and in which wage payments are made directly to the day laborer or indirectly by the day labor service agency…" to perform manual labor and domestic services (Gutierrez 2). However, the utilization of contingent workforces has expanded and employers now rely on workers for a wide variety of demeaning tasks. As a result, the number of day laborers has increased and nearly tripled in the last few decades. Recent studies show that such workers now comprise approximately thirty percent of America's entire workforce.
According to reports from the National Alliance for Fair Employment, "three out of five members of the general public (61%) have either been in a contingent position themselves or have known someone who, in the last ten years, had to work as a part-time, temporary, or contract employee, while preferring a standard job" (1). Furthermore, twenty-two percent of all Americans have involuntarily taken contingent jobs, while an additional thirteen percent have household members who have had previous experience as day laborers (NAFFE 1).
Despite the significant number of contingent employees, anecdotal evidence shows that the majority suffer from pervasive wage and hour violations and lack standard working benefits and protections (Yasui 1). In fact, according to the National Employment Law Project, the working conditions of day laborers and temporary workers are currently characterized by "low wages, frequent non-payment or illegal deductions from wages, and hazardous health and safety violations" (NELP 1).
In Los Angeles, Chicago, and Long Island alone, almost fifty percent of day laborers reported non-payment of wages by employers (NELP 1). The short term employment relationship and fear of retaliation make recovery of wages quite difficult for these workers (NELP 1). Moreover, congress findings indicate that occupational injury and fatality rates are disproportionately higher than those in other industries.
This is because workers are often subject to hazardous conditions without protective benefits such as health insurance and/or safety training or equipment. However, desperate contingent workers "often risk life and limb without ever reporting work hazards" in fear of occupational retaliation (Gutierrez 2). Consequently, employers have been able to exploit day laborers for the last few decades with minimal interception from regulating authorities.