Fairness and Protection Act

The 'Day Laborer Fairness and Protection Act' addresses the reality of these overlooked issues and proposes to help with the typical problems that day laborers face. Congressman Luis Gutierrez argues, "No worker in any industry, or at any company, should have their basic rights violated or their respect diminished." The stated purpose of this Act "is to ensure that individuals working as day laborers, or temporary workers, are afforded full protection of and access to employment and labor laws that ensure workplace dignity and to reduce unfair competitive advantage for firm that abuse day laborers" (Gutierrez 2). The Act broadly proposes to cover all employees that perform "day labor" as defined within the bill. Furthermore, the proposal requires that all employers of day laborers and contingent workers comply with the stated guidelines.

Employers that violate or disregard the Act's requirements may face severe penalties and fines by the Secretary and Department of Labor. The 'Day Laborer Fairness and Protection Act' sets forth strict requirements that prohibit rampant practice of workplace abuse for day laborers throughout the country. More specifically, these requirements prohibit deductions for overpayments or cashing wage payment checks; restrictions on worker acceptance of permanent positions; employer retaliation against day laborers through discharge or by threat (Congressional Legislation). The proposal additionally amends the National Labor Relations Act, making it an unfair labor practice for employers to offer and grant:

1) permanent replacement employee status or other employment preferences to individuals for performing bargaining unit work for the employer during a labor dispute; or 2) any employment preference based on an individual's being employed, or having indicated a willingness to be employed, during a labor dispute, over any employee who was there at dispute commencement, has exercised rights through the labor organization involved in the dispute, and is working for the employer, or has unconditionally offered to return to such work. (Congressional Legislation) 

Such amendments discourage employers from manipulating or discriminating against contingent workers in hopes of acquiring cheap manual labor. As of now, the 'Day Laborer Fairness and Protection Act' is the only proposed legislation that addresses such matters of concern – in particular: pervasive violations of minimum wage and hour protections, inadequate working benefits, and hazardous working environments. 

Minimum wage has been a topic of concern for the entire nation for many years. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the current minimum wage for standard employees is $5.15. However, the majority of day laborers are denied this financial standard and often suffer from various forms of wage abuse from their employers. The National Employment Law Project informs that "day labor employers often delay payments of promised wages until the completion of a job. Upon completion, day laborers are commonly left with less than promised compensation or a void check" (Yasui 1).

Other forms of wage abuse that day labor employers commit include "excessive or illegal deductions from workers' pay" (Yasui 1). The North American Alliance for Fair Employment reports that "when standard and nonstandard workers with similar personal characteristics are compared, most nonstandard workers suffer a substantial pay penalty. Regular part-time female workers are paid twenty percent less and male workers are twenty-seven percent less than regular full-time workers with similar [job] characteristics" (NAFFE 3). As figure 1 demonstrates, the average wage received by non standard contingent workers is dramatically lower than the average wages received by standard employees. 

In response, the 'Day Laborer Fairness and Protection Act' calls for "wages in parity with full time permanent employees performing similar work," in that day laborers must be paid at a rate no less than that of a full time permanent employee performing substantially equivalent work (Yasui 2). This not only increases wages for contingent workers, but decreases the amount of competition for employment between standard and nonstandard employees. Furthermore, the Act mandates rates for weekly and daily overtime, which ensures a minimum daily rate of pay for contingent workers, which creates a sense of financial stability for day laborers (NELP 1). Although statistics show that one in four temporary workers fall below the federal poverty line, the implementation of this Act will allow such low-income workers to make a sufficient amount to support themselves and their families. 

Day laborers and contingent workers affected by wage and hour violations have also been subject to "egregious workplace exploitation," in that employers fail to provide workers with adequate working benefits/compensations such as breaks, time off, and rarely offer affordable health coverage (Yasui 1). Instead, studies indicate that contingent employees are less likely to receive health or pension benefits from their employers (NAFFE 3). In fact, statistics show that only twelve percent of all contingent workers receive health insurance coverage through their employers compared with fifty-three percent of all employees, while only thirteen percent of day laborers receive pension coverage as opposed to forty-seven percent of standard employees (NAFFE 3). Health coverage from day labor agencies has become nonexistent or too expensive for individual plans (NAFFE 4).

In Boston, Massachusetts, Tom Sullivan, who has worked as a contingent employee for the last ten years, claims that "temp health insurance is just for show" (NAFFE 4). He explains how his managers promised him permanent employment; however their promises were obviously immaterial. On one job, Sullivan qualified for his agency plan, yet when he needed minor surgery, he received two weeks off without pay. When he returned, he discovered that he had lost his job and health coverage.

The 'Day Laborer Fairness and Protection Act' addresses similar issues by stating that "if a day laborer is injured while working, unless workers' compensation benefits are available to the day laborer, the day labor service agency and day labor employer are responsible for the health care costs associated with the injury and for all damages flowing from the injury" (Yasui 6).

The Act enforces that workers be subject to adequate health coverage and that all employers must provide workers' compensation coverage regardless of immigration status for work related injuries. The Act additionally requires that employers provide fifteen minute breaks for each four hour period of uninterrupted work and thirty minute paid meal breaks for every shift longer than six hours (Yasui 4). Thus, the 'Day Laborer Fairness and Protection Act' allows contingent workers fair access to benefits that all employees should have, limiting common workplace abuse for contingent workers.

Finally, the 'Day Laborer Fairness and Protection Act' also functions to ensure a safe and healthy working environment for all employees. According to the General Accounting Office, the day labor workforce is particularly vulnerable to workplace abuses and is subject to dangerous tasks that are often shunned by workers with other employment options (Gutierrez 2). Contingent workers are disproportionately affected by violations of occupational health and safety as they are less likely to receive necessary safety equipment and training to protect them while performing work under hazardous conditions (Yasui 1).

According to the National Employment Law Project, forty-six percent of all day laborers worry about their health and safety on the job (NELP 1). As a result, the Act states that a day labor service agency or any employer must inform a worker of possible exposure to hazardous chemicals, unsafe working conditions and work that requires the use of safety and protective equipment (Yasui 6). In general, employers must ensure that "working environments are safe and healthful for day laborers and that employment shall be free of recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to day laborers" (Gutierrez 5).

The 'Day Laborer Fairness and Protection Act,' which was introduced on July 24, 2003, is currently pending in Congress. The bill was most recently referred to the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections and has yet to receive any amendments. This indicates that the proposal is essentially promising and worthy to be passed as an enforced piece of legislation.

The U.S. General Accounting Office however, claims that there are several problems that stand to negatively impact the enforcement of the bill (Worker Protection). These problems include the apparent fact that day laborers are undercounted and that the general contingent workforce fails to make accurate reports of workplace abuse, which increases the difficulty of government investigations. However, the General Accounting Office admits that these issues are of minor concern and can be addressed simply by altering steps in enforcing the policy and by educating day laborers to determine enforcement priorities (Worker Protection). 

In conclusion, day laborers and contingent workers are a significant contribution to the economy and provide seeking employers with a flexible workforce; however they are consistently victims of workplace exploitation. As a result, Gutierrez, who recognizes that "there has been little done to regulate and protect these workers," has introduced the 'Day Laborer Fairness and Protection Act' in order to address the abuse inflicted upon them, specifically minimum wage violations, inadequate working benefits/compensation, and unsafe working environments. 

References Cited

  • "Advocating for the working poor and the unemployed." July 2003. National Employment Law Project http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/C?c108:./temp/~c108oi9QhH