A Chicago News Cooperative story published on August 24 and picked up on the 26th by the New York Times describes how a group called the Latino Union of Chicago is taking steps to “clean up” the practice of hiring day laborers off of street corners.
I mention this because, as we’re seeing in U.S. states like Illinois and Massachusetts, stories like this have a way of entangling the staffing industry in complex debates about immigration and human rights.
According to the story, the union opened its Albany Park Workers Center facility in 2004 as a replacement for a previous temporary staffing location known as “the corner of Milwaukee & Belmont.”
The center – one of about 40 nationwide – has succeeded, in part, through the union’s collaboration with local businesses. The center reportedly ensures that each worker hired for a job has a written contract from the employer before the work begins.
The Latino Union claims that since its inception in 2000, its efforts have led to “increased wage levels, increased workplace safety, and more accountability among employers.”
Here’s where I get confused. For the Chicago News Co-op story, the Latino Union made available an apparent model worker whose life has improved thanks to the Albany Park Workers Center.
Unfortunately, we get to know this man only by his first name and his age. “(His last name is not used in this article because he is an illegal immigrant),” the author notes.
Part of the Latino Union mission is “developing feasible alternatives to the injustices immigrant workers face … ” Now I can’t help but read that with the word “illegal” in there too.
Legitimate staffing firms do NOT operate at the corner of Milwaukee & Belmont, nor on any other street corner in any U.S. city. To suggest that they do is to open the industry up to some potentially devastating costs.
The rest of the sentence in the Latino Union mission statement says “… and building the larger movement for immigrant worker rights.”
This work includes pushing for “moratoriums on raids and deportations,” “develop[ing] procedures that prevent the criminalization of working people,” and “increasing immigrant worker participation [in] civic life and access to government agencies.”
These goals may be realistic, but they’re certainly not cheap. And to saddle legitimate temporary staffing businesses with issues like the viability of ICE Secure Communities, the merits of the proposed HALT Act and the utility of the federal E-Verify system is to threaten the staffing industry itself.
Because in the end, the resulting laws would not advance the staffing industry. They would force all staffing firms to operate as though they’re a local union shop at Milwaukee & Belmont.