National Day Laborer Organizing Network
NDLON President Pablo Alvarado at a Capitol Hill rally.

Can recruitment of day laborers energize union organizing of residential construction workers?

Union officials say it can and point to two separate partnerships between the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), an advocacy group for day laborers, and the AFL-CIO and the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA).
LIUNA General President Terence O’Sullivan says NDLON will help his union in its largest organizing effort to date, a drive to unionize the residential construction industry. The effort, just kicking off, will start in three cities: Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, and then expand to other cities nationwide. “We’re on the ground, but we’re not ramped up yet,” O’Sullivan says. “It will be ramped up in the next six months.”
O’Sullivan says that NDLON will help LIUNA in its outreach to the largely immigrant workforce in the organizing campaign, which is targeting approximately 85,000 workers. “The residential construction market is largely unorganized, largely immigrant workers, and we see it as a real growth industry for our union,” O’Sullivan says. 

Pablo Alvarado, president of NDLON, says that his group is working at the grassroots level to develop positive relationships with community organizations and academic institutions in the targeted areas and build support for the organizing effort.
NDLON formed partnerships with LIUNA and the AFL-CIO last year to work for comprehensive immigration reform and better working conditions for day laborers. A 2006 day- laborers study estimated that there are at least 117,600 day laborers working nationwide, about 43% of whom work for construction contractors. Out of the total day-laborer population, nearly half of those surveyed reported that they had not been paid at least once by an employer in the previous two months, and one in five said they had been injured on the job due to poor working conditions.  The study found that about three-fourths of day laborers are undocumented.

“Day laborers are some of the most exploited workers in this country,” O’Sullivan says. “We're committed to work with them, to fight alongside with them, to make sure that day laborers aren’t exploited and abused.”

The partnership with the AFL-CIO also is focused on affiliating day-laborer centers with the union group. Six worker centers, including an NDLON center, currently are affiliated with the AFL-CIO. According to Alvarado, the centers, although controversial and often opposed by anti-immigration groups, provide day laborers with an alternative to gathering in the parking lots of local convenience stores. Workers register at the centers and are able to negotiate for better pay and working conditions than they could on their own, Alvarado says. Workers at the centers often have the opportunity to enroll in English classes as well as pre-apprenticeship programs that prepare them for more training down the road.

Through the AFL-CIO partnership, day laborers also get a voice, though not voting privileges, on the AFL-CIO’s central labor councils. “We can air our concerns so that they can understand who we are and that day-laborer centers are labor institutions—not in the traditional sense because we don't have any collective bargaining agreements, but we do have the ability to advocate for workers and to earn better wages and working conditions,” Alvarado says.

In comments to NDLON members who gathered in Silver Spring, Md., for an annual meeting in August, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, “We have proven that working together really works, and we look forward to expanding our efforts during the coming year…. We are fighting for the same things: good jobs with full benefits and wages, good schools for our children, high-quality affordable health care for every family and, for every worker, the freedom to form and join unions, and, for every immigrant, full workers’ rights and a path to citizenship.”