Plenty of Work For Day Laborers

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy held a silver lining for day laborers in Woodside, Queens and the metro area. Opportunities for clean-up and rebuilding have provided work for laborers who had been facing a dearth of jobs. However, with the work comes increased fraud and health risks. Below is the translation of an El Diario/La Prensa article by Zaira Cortés, originally in Spanish.

Construction workers in Long Island said that job opportunities have increased as a result of Sandy. (Photo by Zaira Cortés/El Diario La Prensa)

After enduring unemployment for stretches of various weeks, day laborers in Woodside, Queens are getting group job offers for up to 50 workers to do cleanup jobs in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

José Vélez, a 36-year-old Ecuadorian, said that last week, he worked for four days and earned $120 for each shift in devastated areas of New Jersey.

“Like many of my co-workers, I was unemployed for weeks. It’s a blessing to have so much work,” said Vélez, who has two children.

Roberto Meneses has been a day laborer for over 20 years in Woodside, where around 300 workers gather seeking employment. Meneses, who is from Mexico, said that contractors offer between $15 and $20 an hour for jobs like cleaning flooded basements or removing trees and branches about to fall.

“There’s a lot of work now compared with previous years. It’s a very good thing. We’re expecting more opportunities in the coming months as houses get re-built,” he said.

Meneses emphasized that despite the abundance of job offers, workers are wary of potential wage theft.

In Long Island, what was being forecast as a tough season for gardeners and construction workers, has been transformed into a bonanza of opportunities after Sandy. 

Marcos Martínez, a Mexican living in Sag Harbor, has been a gardener for 10 years and said in a telephone interview that fallen trees and branches are an excellent source of income for his small business.

Martínez employs two Latino workers and charges clients between $40 and $60 an hour for removing a medium-sized tree that’s threatening to fall on a house or building. The demand for clean-up jobs has brought him contracts between $2,500 and $3,000 for clearing out flooded basements.

“In past years during this season, gardeners usually stop finding work and start to put away their tools,” said Martínez.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration started an educational campaign to prevent fraud and labor-related accidents at various street corners and job agencies where day laborers look for work, including Woodside.

Víctor Pacheco, a consultant with OSHA, said that one of the main concerns is water contamination, which can lead to cases of hepatitis and happened during Hurricane Katrina.

Other risks include inappropriate handling of “live wires” or cables with electricity running through them, and operating equipment for pumping water out of flooded basements without proper training. The flooded basements produce carbon monoxide, and a worker could become poisoned or in extreme cases, die without enough ventilation.