Home remodeling can be an intensely private task, or it can include scores of workers traipsing through your house. But for those times when you need a little of both, a day laborer or several can pitch in to help with basic home remodeling projects. Not only that, it's a great way to save the hefty cost of a contractor's commission.
Risks of Hiring off the Street
Consider the classic day laborer scenario of a group of men standing outside of a strip mall or home improvement store, waiting for a potential employer to drive by. It is usually illegal for day laborers to congregate in these areas.
As a homeowner and would-be employer, you run the risk of hiring a day laborer who is, at best, an unskilled or unenthusiastic worker; at worst, this laborer may pilfer from you or cause personal harm or property damage (though risks are low). For the day laborer, there is no agreed-upon pay scale or working conditions. Equally, day laborers face safety risks when strangers pick them up off the street.
Solution: A Day Laborer Center
However, there is a solution that greatly helps with the process of hiring (and hopefully rehiring) day laborers for your home remodeling jobs, all the while providing greater security for the laborers themselves. It is a day laborer center.
Day laborer centers typically are 501(c)3 non-profit organizations that act as matchmaking services for employers (that's you!) and day laborers. These centers are usually not affiliated with local government, though they may receive some approval from municipalities.
You pay the day laborer directly, and the laborer keeps 100 percent of the money. You pay fair wages for the work--the same wages that a contractor would pay a subcontractor. Wages begin around $16 an hour.
A day laborer center benefits you because you can hire through an established (rather than ad hoc) system that matches needs with skills. Also, besides employment opportunities, these centers tend to provide a banquet of helpful services to the laborers and their families--ESL teaching, skills training, legal help, and social services.
Home Remodeling Skills
Day laborers can help with entry-level home remodeling or construction jobs like:
- Drywall hanging, taping, and sanding
- Exterior house painting
- Brick and other masonry work
- Building fences
- Constructing retaining walls
While you should assume entry-level skills, the chances are good that the pool of day laborers will include those who have more specialized skills, such as hardwood floor installation, fine carpentry, or carpet installation. The day labor center will do their best to try to find workers who have those specialized skills.
Still Not the Perfect Solution
The best thing about hiring a day laborer or two for your remodeling projects is that you cut out the contractor, who can charge 15 to 20 percent commission. In essence, you are becoming a contractor. Also, you can get started right away. With a call to the day labor center, you will have workers at your house the next day.
While cutting out the contractor's commission is great, cutting out the contractor's services is not so great. Contractors perform valuable services for their commissions, one of which is handling workers.
It is a private arrangement between you and the laborer; the day labor center merely connects the two of you and steps out of the picture. Some controls are in place, though. For example, if you have a day laborer who is not performing well, you can easily switch out that worker for another one, no questions asked.
While day laborers can handle dirty and unpleasant tasks, such as moving dirt, sanding drywall, or demolishing walls, this arrangement is no excuse for hiring them to do dangerous tasks like removing asbestos or stripping lead-based paint. Just as with any other employer, you are subject to labor laws concerning health and safety.
You are liable for workplace injuries suffered by day laborers. Check with your homeowners' insurance to see if you are covered and how much coverage you have.
Day laborer centers are legal in the sense that they are vetted by municipalities. It is up to you to check on documentation of the workers. The centers do not do this.
Where to Find a Center
- Currently, there is a website, Hire a Day Laborer, that plugs you into local resources. While the origins of this group are murky, a domain ownership search uncovers that it is owned by The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), a reputable political action group based in Los Angeles.
- Find your local day laborer center by searching for "day laborer center [your town]" or "day worker center [your town]." Not every community will have one. Populous areas with large Hispanic populations stand a better chance of having one.
How to Hire From a Center
- Even though you are hiring through a non-profit, the workers are there to work; this is not a charity. They already have this expectation, but some homeowners who have not hired day laborers may think of this as a "hand-out" relationship. Not only is this detrimental to your project and pocketbook, but it is patronizing to day laborers. Remember: they are more experienced at this arrangement than you are.
- Place an order with the center, and be as specific as possible about the duties to be performed.
- Arrange transportation to take the laborer between the center and your home, round-trip. Centers often can arrange transportation for a surcharge.
- Build-in about 30 minutes of paid time to acclimate the worker with the project. Are you Spanish-speaking? So much the better. If not, you can usually communicate the work orders, as many laborers have rudimentary English skills. Remember, you do not have to tell them how to do the job, just what needs to be done.
- Let the workers begin. Check-in frequently during the first 4 hours of the project; this is the most crucial time for making certain the project is taking the right shape.
- Pay in cash at the end of the day. If the project is done and the work is exceptional, feel free to award a bonus of 15-20 percent per worker. Specify whether or not the worker will return to the job site the next morning.