New Law Protects Day Laborers

Erika Slife, Chicago Tribune, Aug. 10

Like most people, Arturo Nieto is looking for an honest day’s work—even if it’s a 12-hour backbreaking day in construction.

But as a day laborer, he considers himself lucky if he receives a proper wage out of it.

“Personally, I went through an experience when someone didn’t pay me,” said Nieto, 39, speaking in Spanish. “But I reported it to the police, and they helped me, and I recuperated my money. This went very well.”

Advocates for day laborers said Tuesday that they were optimistic for more happy endings like Nieto’s now that Gov. Rod Blagojevich has signed a bill giving temporary workers more rights to fair wages and workplace conditions.

But they acknowledged that empowering temporary workers, a traditionally silent and fearful bunch, is an uphill battle.

The law will allow the state to punish more severely those temporary-staffing agencies that shortchange workers’ paychecks; illegally charge workers for business expenses, such as safety equipment and transportation; and provide unsafe working conditions.

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Advocates also are working on getting laws passed to protect laborers like Nieto, who is originally from Mexico and who has tried finding construction work on street corners. These days, Nieto and others in a similar situation have been seeking jobs at the Albany Park Workers Center, 4174 N. Elston Ave., which opened in late 2004.

He said he feels more secure trying to find work at the center than on the street.

“A lot of people are afraid to make a report to the police. In reality, they don’t know the politics, how each police officer is going to act,” Nieto said.

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