Danger and Dignity: Immigrant Day Laborers and Occupational Risk
71 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2016 Last revised: 20 Jun 2016
Date Written: March 21, 2016
The plight of immigrant workers in the United States has captured significant scholarly attention in recent years. Despite the prevalence of discourses regarding this population, one set of issues has received relatively little attention: immigrant workers’ exposure to unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, and their corresponding susceptibility to workplace injuries and illnesses. Researchers have consistently found that immigrant workers suffer disproportionately from occupational injuries and fatalities, even when controlling for industry and occupation. Why, then, are foreign-born workers at greater risk for workplace injuries and fatalities, when compared with their native-born counterparts? This Article seeks to develop answers to that question with the aid of empirical research and to build upon a growing interdisciplinary literature.
This Article presents findings from a qualitative research study designed to explore the factors that shape occupational risks for immigrants. The study, conducted over several months in 2014, centered on in-depth interviews of eighty-four immigrant day laborers seeking employment in different parts of Northern Virginia. The workers’ responses present a complex picture of the immigrant worker experience, reflecting persistent dangers alongside powerful expressions of worker dignity: while the Virginia day laborers continue to encounter significant occupational risks, many comfortably asserted their rights, complicating standard narratives of immigrant worker subordination and vulnerability.
The results of the study also point to ongoing economic insecurities, and regulatory failures relating to the provision of training, use of protective equipment, and oversight of smaller worksites. The findings also signal the need for a more holistic approach to workplace regulation that concomitantly examines a range of workplace concerns, including wage violations, hostile work environments, and health and safety risks. Finally, the day laborers’ experiences reveal that worker centers are well positioned to insulate immigrant workers from workplace risks, by promoting transparency and accountability in the employer-employee relationship.
Keywords: immigrant, worker, day labor, day laborer, OSHA, workplace safety, accident, injury, occupational safety, health and safety, undocumented, immigrant, immigration, risk, determinant, regulation
JEL Classification: K32, J28, J20, J61, O15, R23, F22
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation