If one takes into account well staffed entities as well as simple hiring halls, there are probably up to 200 centers dedicated to supporting immigrant workers in obtaining work, learning about American labor practices, and securing their labor rights. I have been to two such centers: The Brazilian Immigrant Center in Boston, and the Watsonville Law Center in Watsonville, CA. I have also visited a makeshift center – more of a hiring hall – in Brooklyn.
Janice Fine of Rutgers University has published a book on this topic: “Worker Centers: Organizing Communities at the Edge of the Dream”. Cornell U Press summarizes the book: “[She] identifies 137 worker centers in more than eighty cities, suburbs, and rural areas in thirty-one states. These centers, which attract workers in industries that are difficult to organize, have emerged as especially useful components of any program intended to assist immigrants and low-wage workers of color. Worker centers serve not only as organizing laboratories but also as places where immigrants and other low-wage workers can participate in civil society, tell their stories to the larger community, resist racism and anti-immigrant sentiment, and work to improve their political and economic standing.”
Fine defines labor centers as “community-based mediating institutions that provide support to low-wage immigrants. Part settlement house, part local civil rights organization, and part union, the centers pursue this mission through a combination of approaches.”
Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Labor Organizing Network proposed seven characteristics of a well runs center:
must provide adequate employment opportunities to meet the demand. Good jobs are as important as the number of jobs available.
must be located in close proximity to places where day laborers naturally congregate. For example, workers successfully negotiated with Home Depot to open a day labor center within the context of a newly opened store.
must be visible and accessible for both workers and employers.
day laborers must be involved in the operation of the centers and must have a say in its decisions.
all community stakeholders must be involved in supporting the work of the center, including police, merchants, community organizations, city officials, etc.
must provide services free of cost to employers and to day laborers.
day laborers should be able to attend centers of their own free will, and in no way be coerced to attend a center to solicit employment—in other words, the use of force, with or without a gun, is prohibited.