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Working day by day, casual laborers struggle in down economy

Sally Taylor Roberts

Blustery winds and dark clouds on a recent weekday morning combined with a down economy meant there would be no work for the dozen men and two women in the waiting area of the Nevada State Day Labor Office.

Meanwhile, business owners and homeowners across the region scratched their heads as they compared the odd jobs that need to be done against tight budgets.

Rick Healy wants to bring the two needs together.

Healy is the day labor manager for the office, which is part of Nevada JobConnect and operates under the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

The office located on Galletti Way and Kietzke Lane registers laborers, ensures they are legally authorized to work in the United States and matches them with potential employers. Those looking for work show up each morning by 7 a.m. hoping to pick up a job from the few that are available.

“A few years ago it was possible to make a fairly decent income as a day laborer,” Healy said. “Three years ago we averaged 60-70 people per day looking for work and we put 30 out (on jobs). Today there’s quite a few less. About 25 people come in each day and we send out about four to six on average. That’s a huge drop from a few years ago.”

State officials hope to boost employment opportunities by getting the word out to business owners and consumers.

Laborers may be skilled in such things as drywall, sprinklers, plumbing, painting, and moving furniture as well as cleaning yards and digging holes. A potential employer can pick out a laborer, take whoever is next on the list or ask for a recommendation. The employer sets the wage at or above minimum wage. Most offer $8-$12 an hour.

Unlike private employment firms, the state Day Labor Office does not carry insurance and keeps only rough records. It’s up to the employer and laborer to keep payment records.

When providing workers for private individuals, the staff considers special circumstances such as whether the employer is elderly, a woman alone or if children are at the house.

“We want to know that ahead of time. We will send people we trust to work at our own house; people we have known for some time,” Healy said.

Healy acknowledges some confusion between the laborers registered with his office and the workers who stand along nearby Galletti Way, hoping employers will stop before entering the Day Labor Office. Some of them are new to the country. Others just don’t want to do the paperwork required at the office.

“We know our people quite well. Many have been working through our office for years and years,” Healy said, noting that laborers may be skilled laborers needing quick cash between regular jobs or people who choose day labor as a lifestyle.

In the past, businesses supplied three-fourths of the jobs filled through the Day Labor Office, Healy said. As the poor economy forced businesses to close or cut back, that dropped to less than 50 percent.

Realtor Raymond Solorzano, with RE/Max Realty Affiliates, has regularly hired laborers from the Day Labor Office for six years, both professionally and for work at his own house. He also recommends the office to clients.

“To date, I have never had any issues,” he said.

To avoid liability issues, Solorzano does not hire day laborers for electrical, roofing or jobs on ladders. But for most jobs, day laborers are a bargain. He pays $10-$12 an hour and buys them lunch.

He hopes the experience they gain will lead to permanent jobs.

“That’s what I love to see, guys getting out of the situation they’re in. Times are rough. They work hard.”

Laborer Kurt Schulze is looking for permanent work but is happy to have landed a temporary job through the office. Working in Mound House as a night security guard, he keeps an eye on heavy equipment for a road construction company that has had trouble with theft.

But he has big dreams even as he lives in his car and writes a book during his off hours.

“This job is helping me get ahead,” he said.



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