Skip to main content

Wage Theft Among Latino Day Laborers in Post-Katrina New Orleans: Comparing Contractors with Other Employers

Abstract

This study examines the nature of wage theft among Latino day laborers who participated in post-Katrina construction work. It addresses three important issues: (a) Is wage theft more prevalent in circumstances where there is very little enforcement of labor law? (b) Are professional contractors more likely to commit wage theft than other employers such as homeowners and small businesses? And (c) Do contractors and non-contractors who commit wage theft vary in the reasons given to justify their crime? Through survey interviews with 304 Latino day laborers conducted at four procurement sites across the city, respondents indicate that 78 % were victims of wage theft over the previous year (2008). Comparisons of wage theft across multiple studies expose the need for the development of a common conceptualization of a rate of wage theft and the benefit of using similar sampling frames to facilitate cross-comparison. Analysis reveals that there was no significant variation in the incidence of wage theft by employer type. Contractors and non-contractors did not differ significantly in the average dollar amount of wage theft, in the number of days worked before wage theft was committed, or in the hourly wage promised to employees. Contractors were, however, much more likely to justify wage theft by citing lack of funds than non-contractors.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Bauer, M. (2009). “Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South.” Southern Poverty Law Center.

  2. Bernhardt, A., Milkman, R., Theodore, N., Heckathorn, D., Auer, M., DeFilippis, J., Gonzalez, A. L., Narro, V., Perelshteyn, J., Polson, D., and Spiller, M. (2009). “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers.” National Employment Law Project.

  3. Blue, S. A., & Drever, A. I. (2011). Subcontracting work via social networks: migrant Latino labour and the rebuilding of New Orleans. Population, Space and Place, 17, 489–504.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bobo, K. (2008). Wage theft in America: why millions of working Americans are not getting paid—and what we can do about it. New York: The New Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Browne-Dianis, J., Lai, J., Hincapie, M., and Soni, S. (2006). “And Injustice for All: Workers’ Lives in the Reconstruction of New Orleans.” Advancement Project.

  6. Fletcher, L. E., Pham, P., Stover, E., & Vinck, P. (2007). Latino Workers and Human Rights in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, 28, 107–162.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Fussell, E. (2007). Latino/a immigrants in Post-Katrina New Orleans: a research report. World on the Move: Newsletter of the American Sociological Association’s Section on International Migration, 13, 2–4.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Fussell, E. (2009). Post-Katrina New Orleans as a new migrant destination. Organization & Environment, 22, 458–469.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Fussell, E. (2011). The deportation threat dynamic and victimization of Latino migrants: wage theft and robbery. The Sociological Quarterly, 52, 593–615.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Gorman, L. B. (2010). Latino migrant labor strife and solidarity in Post-Katrina New Orleans, 2005–2007. The Latin Americanist, 54, 1–33.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Milkman, R., Gonzalez, A. L., & Narro, V. (2010). Wage theft and workplace violations in Los Angeles: the failure of employment and Labor Law for low-wage workers. Los Angeles: UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

    Google Scholar 

  12. National Employment Law Project. (2011). “Winning Wage Justice: An Advocate’s Guide to State and City Policies to Fight Wage Theft.”

  13. Pandya, S. S. (2012). Tax liability for wage theft. Columbia Journal of Tax Law, 3, 113–143.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Skarbek, D. (Ed.). (2010). Restricting reconstruction: occupational licensing and natural disasters. Northampton: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Smukler, T. (2006). Working on faith: a faithful response to worker abuse in New Orleans. Chicago: Interfaith Worker Justice.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Testimony, C. (2007). “Adequacy of Labor Law Enforcement in New Orleans.” in Subcommittee on Domestic Policy. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Theodore, N., Valenzuela, A., & Melendez, E. (2006). La Esquina (The Corner): day laborers on the margins of New York’s formal economy. Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society, 9, 407–423.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Valenzuela, A. (2003). Day Labor work. Annual Review of Sociology, 29, 307–333.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Valenzuela, A., Theodore, N., Melendez, E., and Gonzalez, A.L. (2006). “On the Corner: Day Labor in the United States.” UCLA Center for the Study of Urban Poverty.

  20. Vinck, P., Pham, P., Fletcher, L. E., & Stover, E. (2009). Inequalities and prospects: ethnicities and legal status in the construction labor force after Hurricane Katrina. Organization & Environment, 22, 470–478.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Weil, D., & Pyles, A. (2005). Why complain? Complaints, compliance, and the problem of enforcement in the U.S. workplace. Comparative Labor Law and Policy Journal, 27, 59.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The author gratefully acknowledges the contribution of Dr. Patrick Walsh to the theory portion of this paper. Dr. Walsh, a scholar and a gentleman who is sorely missed.

The author also acknowledges the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ) for providing the data which made this research possible. A preliminary version of this data was analyzed and reported in an executive summary presented to the New Orleans City Council in June of 2009. This presentation led to the passage, in 2011, of Resolution R-11-161 which established a special court for monthly hearings to process claims of wage theft regardless of the citizenship status of the claimant. For researchers interested in a copy of this dataset, please contact the NOWCRJ directly at http://nowcrj.org/contact/.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Warren Waren.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Waren, W. Wage Theft Among Latino Day Laborers in Post-Katrina New Orleans: Comparing Contractors with Other Employers. Int. Migration & Integration 15, 737–751 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-013-0303-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Wage theft
  • Day labor
  • Latino day laborer
  • New Orleans
  • Post-Katrina
  • Reconstruction
  • Labor
  • Subcontractor
  • Contractor