Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Service to Day Laborers: A Job Libraries Have Undone. (Community Building)

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Service to Day Laborers: A Job Libraries Have Undone. (Community Building)

Article excerpt

   I began to study English    In order to defend myself    From an American bastard where    I was working.    They jerked me around like a    puppet    Just because I didn't speak that    damned English.    The American told me, in English    and all pissed off,    "You wetback, ya don't understand    what you are supposed    to do ..."    --Los Jornaleros del Norte    "La Frasesita" (1) 

They present an increasingly prominent public face all around the country, and yet they are flatly ignored by most libraries. It's hard to imagine a more information-impoverished constituency than immigrant day laborers. For a number of economic, linguistic, legal, and cultural reasons, the jornaleros who gather on sidewalks and the parking lots of hardware stores each morning to scramble for job offers are effectively shut out from essential services and information sources that most of us take for granted.

Public libraries are in an ideal position to address many of these needs. There is a solid library tradition of doing just that for other labor groups, and the accelerating development of day laborer organizations nationwide offers some enticing opportunities for collaboration involving librarians.

This report begins with an introduction to day laborers and their hiring sites, both the organized and the much more common nonorganized variety. It follows with a consideration of some of their crucial information needs, offers suggestions of the kinds of steps libraries could take to better serve these workers, and points the reader toward a selection of relevant resources. Librarians already familiar with jornaleros will want to skip directly ahead to the final sections of the article.--Editor

Who Are Day Laborers?

Although their characteristics surely vary according to region, certain broad generalizations hold true: the typical jornalero or esquinero (labels derived from Spanish words for "workday" and "street-corner") is a young to middle-aged Spanish-speaking male. About half are single men, and the other half are married with families to help support.

Their first important demographic portrait was painted by UCLA Professor Abel Valenzuela's day labor survey of 481 jornaleros at eighty-seven Los Angeles and Orange County hiring sites in early 1999. He found that nearly 30 percent had been in the United States less than a year and that two-thirds were less than thirty-seven years of age. While more than half had six years or less of formal education, more than one-third had gone to high school or beyond. All but ten of Valenzuela's 481 interviews were conducted in Spanish. (2)

Nearly 60 percent of his informants hit the streets four or more days per week, and their mean estimated yearly earnings from day labor amounted to about $8,500. In a Day Labor Research Institute survey of Los Angeles day laborers, Svensson found that only one in eight owned a vehicle, and she estimated that perhaps as few as 10 percent of those seeking work on a given day were likely to be hired. (3)

Valenzuela emphasizes that Los Angeles day laborers are men, almost without exception. At only one hiring site have I encountered a woman; she was however with her male partner, not a regular at the large hardware store--hosted site, and admitted she "wasn't sure" if anyone would be willing to hire her for housework. (4) At some organized hiring locations, such as the Central American Refugee Center in Houston, women are explicitly barred. (5) Significantly, some 85 percent of the workers in Valenzuela's survey lacked legal immigration documents. (6)

Unlike others in the culture of "temps" (affectionately labeled disposable employees in corporate HR jargon), a mammoth sector where Manpower claimed 2.7 million employees and $12.4 billion worth of business in 2000 and where companies often get away with denying proper benefits, jornaleros need not show work permits. What's more, they are typically paid under the table, and they eliminate the middle man from their hiring transactions. …

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