Day laborers find work through two common routes. First, some employment agencies specialize in very short-term contracts for manual labor most often in construction, factories, offices, and manufacturing. These companies usually have offices where workers can arrive and be assigned to a job on the spot, as they are available. An example of a corporation in this business, in North America and the United Kingdom, is Labor Ready, Inc.
Less formally, workers meet at well-known locations, usually public street corners or commercial parking lots, and wait for building contractors, landscapers, home owners and small business owners, and other potential employers to offer work. Much of this work is in small residential construction or landscaping. These workers earn, on average, between $8 - $10 an hour. The media and a study by UCLA portrays day laborers as being undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America, who otherwise can't get work due to current employment regulations. Other research has found that day laborers are not typically undocumented, many are even citizens of the U.S., and that day labor is often a transition to fulltime work .
Casual day laborers are thought to be usually paid in cash (or commonly known as being paid "under the table"), and therefore evade having to pay income taxes. Informal day labor is not new to the United States, and day laborers are not always Latino, nor even immigrants in some cases. In his study of day laborers in Atlanta, Terry Easton interviews white and African American day laborers in addition to Latino workers. Many other metropolitan areas still have non-immigrant day laborers, and many other large and small cities have immigrant day laborers from a variety of countries, including Mongolia, Poland, Russia, Brazil, Central and South America, and countries in Africa. Non-immigrant informal day labor, seen in many cities, does not generate the controversy or calls to police and local government seen when immigrant day laborers gather to wait for work.
Unorganized day labor creates real problems for day laborers: 1 in 3 corner day laborers have experienced theft of wages in the past two months while 1 in 5 experienced a serious worksite injury in the past year . Low wages and poor working conditions, employer abuse, and lack of insurance for work related accidents is common.
Numerous complaints are made about immigrant day laborers. These include loitering, noise, and rushing cars of potential employers in parking lots. Cities and counties have tried a variety of solutions with varied success. Some municipalities and communities have supported workers' efforts to organize themselves into democratically run workers' centers, designated areas, and organizations to defend workers' rights in general. Workers' Centers of this kind date back at least 18 years to Los Angeles. Other municipalities have targeted day labor sites for aggressive enforcement of immigration laws.
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), a network of such organizations, and the Day Labor Research Institute have emerged as members of the immigrant workers' rights movement. Member organizations of NDLON have been responsible for collecting workers' wages that were not paid by employers, building coalitions to pass legislation that regulates temporary agencies, and countering the arrest of corner day laborers. The Day Labor Research Institute has worked to establish quasi-union hiring halls designed and run by the day laborers themselves, mediated between day laborers and angry neighbors and business owners, and trained police in day labor relations.
Though united in their commitment to the rights of immigrant workers, NDLON and the Day Labor Research Institute represent two very different models of day labor center. NDLON represents the "social service agency model" and the Institute the "day laborer designed model." These different models of day labor centers may yield markedly different results that reflect the different goals of each model.
Problems when workers' centers are established are also common: day laborers often continue to congregate in large numbers on the streets surrounding the day labor centers, refusing to leave the street and use the center; new problems can be created, including new crowds of homeless and substance abusers loitering near the center after hours, and large numbers of day laborers drawn from other areas to the streets surrounding the centers . Low levels of work at the centers, low wages, and problems with the job distribution system are also common.