Day Laborers and Workers at CASA
Day laborers are women and men without full-time jobs who seek temporary work to support themselves and their families. This type of employment activity has always existed, but the number of people forced into day labor has increased in recent years as employers seek to replace permanent workers. Day labor pick-up sites at street corners, vacant lots and shopping centers have proliferated and are now common in urban communities. In the DC metro area, the majority of day laborers are immigrants and refugees from Latin America, but some are born in the U.S. All look for jobs with fair wages and employers who treat them with respect. Unfortunately, the majority return home each day without finding work. And often those lucky enough to get a job are cheated of their promised wage after days or weeks of hard work. For some employers, day workers are an easily exploitable labor force, without the knowledge or ability to protect themselves. CASA has developed a successful model of addressing the needs of employers and day laborers through Welcome Centers. These Centers provide employment placement services combined with ESOL classes, vocational training, legal services, and community organizing to help workers achieve economic self-sufficiency.
The core component of a successful welcome center is a strong employment placement program. Operating from 6am to 2pm Monday – Saturday, CASA’s employment specialists register and screen workers, place them in jobs, and conduct follow-up, while CASA’s job developers strengthen and create long-term hiring relationships with employers. CASA screens workers and employers according to their skills, credibility, and need. CASA also implements several quality control measures at its Centers, such as a worker evaluation form that is given to employers when they hire at CASA, and “Codes of Ethics” and “Standards of Practice” that all workers are required to sign. In addition, CASA has led workers in several creative campaigns to improve the Centers’ effectiveness, including a “chambitas” (odd jobs) campaign in the off-season, and a “Good Workers Good Neighbors” campaign to focus on creating positive community relations with area residents.
CASA’s Centers are recognized nationally for their unique approach to helping low-income immigrants achieve self-sufficiency. By facilitating the creation of worker’s associations to take a leadership role in the Center’s operations, and by combining educational courses with employment services and training opportunities, CASA ensures that the community it serves is personally invested in the Center.
Five Centers in Maryland:
Organized in the early 1990’s, CASA’s original center (also known as its Silver Spring Center for Employment and Training) developed in response to the growing number of workers congregating on street corners seeking employment. Due to informal labor market conditions, many workers were abused, mistreated, and under-paid (or not paid at all) by their employers. Workers lacked information about their rights and responsibilities, facilities such as public restrooms, and safe areas in which to interact and negotiate with employers. In addition, neighborhood associations and local businesses also expressed concerns about the effects of an unorganized hiring site on the neighborhood. Through CASA’s efforts to include the range of stakeholders, including neighborhoods, churches, immigrant advocates, police, businesses and county governments, public and private funding was identified to open the first center in 1994. Since then, the Center has grown to house an employment placement program, health education and outreach program, a bilingual health information hotline, a legal services program, seven levels of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes, citizenship prep courses, Spanish literacy courses, a vocational training program, financial literacy courses, tenant associations, worker associations, and women’s associations. This Center received one of the first Annie E. Casey Foundation/National Council of La Raza’s “Families Strengthening Award” in 2003, and CASA regularly provides tours and site visits to interested partners who would like to create similar centers using CASA’s model.
In 2002, CASA opened an office in Baltimore City to provide legal rights counseling and leadership development to workers. Following the release of Baltimore’s Day Labor Report, recommending the creation of an employment and training center, CASA worked with the Mayor’s office to secure funding and a location for a newly opened Center providing legal and employment placement services, financial literacy, job skills training, and additional educational courses. CASA’s Baltimore Welcome Center is currently under renovation, thanks to funding from the City of Baltimore and an anonymous donor, and will open in November 2007.
In September 2005, CASA opened its Wheaton Center with funding from Montgomery County, and later, from private foundations including the Washington Area Partnership for Immigrants. Modeled after CASA’s Silver Spring Center, the Wheaton Center provides employment placement services, financial education workshops, legal services, and ESOL courses.
Opened in April 2007 in partnership with Montgomery County, and replicating CASA’s other welcome centers, the Center for Employment and Training at Shady Grove provides employment placement services, ESOL classes, legal services and representation, leadership development, and information and referrals to low-income Latino and immigrant workers and their families.
December 2008 CASA de Maryland opened the Prince George’s Welcome Center, in partnership with Prince George’s County, by applying CASA’s Welcome Centers’ model. The Prince George’s Welcome Center is the largest Welcome Center in the country and provides employment placement services, job skills training, ESOL classes, legal services and representation, leadership development, and information and referrals to hundreds of low-income Latino and immigrant workers and their families. The Prince George’s Welcome Center also contains a training lab and receives visiting instructors from Prince George’s Community College who teach vocational training courses to prepare workers for jobs in construction. The center is also CASA’s ID site.