New Faces At Day Labor Centers: Women

Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2007

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Immigrant women are increasingly joining the throngs of men at day labor centers across the country. But rather than compete with men, who are seeking temporary construction or gardening work, the women are searching for jobs as housecleaners or caretakers.

“What you are seeing in Los Angeles is a reflection of a larger national trend,” said Abel Valenzuela, an associate professor at UCLA who has done extensive research on day laborers. “It’s a relatively new movement…. Worker centers are expanding and opening up their doors to other types of workers, including women.”

Hiring halls provide a safe place for women to search for work, he said. Their organizers often write down the names, addresses, phone numbers and license plate numbers of employers.

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Roughly 35% of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. are adult women, according to a 2006 analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center, and about 17% of the cleaning industry is made up of undocumented immigrants.

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Highly publicized workplace raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement have prompted more employers to ask for identification and to make sure it is valid, observers said. Those checks could increase if the Senate revives and passes reform legislation that would require all employers to electronically verify the eligibility of new hires. A bipartisan immigration reform bill stalled in the Senate last week.

Nationwide, there are more than 60 job centers, usually run by community groups and offering shelter and bathrooms to immigrant and other workers. Los Angeles County has 12 day labor centers, as well as dozens of street corners that attract temporary workers.

The centers are particularly controversial because they attract large numbers of undocumented workers and are typically funded or sanctioned by cities trying to balance the needs of businesses, workers and residents.

Joseph Turner, who has staged protests at day labor sites, said the purpose of centers is to violate federal immigration laws that forbid hiring undocumented workers.

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“When you have women resorting to soliciting work in the least desirable environment, it’s indicative that the problem is getting even worse and worse, that you are having a mass influx of illegal aliens looking for jobs that aren’t there.”

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In an industry that depends heavily on referrals and word of mouth, female day laborers in some areas have gone a step further by organizing housecleaning collectives, which they say improves their wages and makes them less vulnerable to exploitation.

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