Poor Working Conditions for Day Laborers in the Wake of Harvey

The disastrous effects of Hurricane Harvey have left much of Houston in a state of ruin. The enormous job of cleaning up the homes and businesses that were hit by the storm has resulted in increased work for day laborers.

As has been the case following all major storms and hurricanes in recent U.S. history, day laborers have been a vital part of the rebuilding process. The work they perform isn’t pretty; it can include anything from moving fallen trees to clearing out flooded homes. However, studies conducted in the weeks since Harvey hit indicate that the current environment has facilitated exploitation of the workers aiding the clean-up efforts.

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network recently conducted a survey of day laborers working on clean-up crews. They found that day laborers are frequently exposed to moldy, rotten and contaminated conditions. In a second survey, around 25 percent of the 350 day laborers interviewed were denied payment or abandoned at a job site after completing a job. Around 85 percent of those interviewed were working without safety training.

With an increased government push to crack down on illegal immigration this year, undocumented day laborers are less likely to report exploitative working conditions for fear of deportation. Houston is believed to house more than half a million illegal immigrants. Nearly three-quarters of the day laborers assisting in the hurricane clean-up are undocumented.

The above studies indicate that most undocumented workers do not realize they have any rights and protections under employment law. The federal government provides wage and safety rights to workers in the U.S.—including workers who reside here illegally. If you are facing exploitation on the job, an experienced employment attorney can help you understand your rights.