When storms like Sandy strike we are reminded of how much we need each other and of how dependent on each other we are for our own wellbeing. Bearing down for the storm exposes our uneven resources and the fragility of our daily lives. Making it through shows us the monumental task of rebuilding.
What will it take to recover from the super storm that struck the East Coast? How do we repair after a disaster? Downed power lines, empty gas tanks, flooded tunnels, destroyed homes, lost family members: No one could have predicted what Sandy would do to places completely unaccustomed to that type of weather.
As the region gets ready for recovery one thing is true. Day laborers, migrant, and low-wage workers will be key to rebuilding New York and other affected areas. The workers who lend their labor to homeowners and contractors on a daily basis are gathering at worker centers and at street corner hiring sites, ready and available to help those in need of relief.
And it won't be the first time that day laborers play a central role in recovery. In Los Angeles, day laborers formed fire brigades to aid homeowners affected by the wildfires in the hills. After hurricane Katrina, workers from all over the country and all over the world arrived to lend a hand in the still incomplete reconstruction of New Orleans, exposing themselves to terrible conditions so that the city could get back on its feet. At great sacrifice for themselves and great benefit for everyone, day laborers are first responders for reconstruction.
A difference in a place like New York is that the city has been called home by day laborers for decades. New York day laborers are not arriving to repair. They are recovering alongside their neighbors. Affected by the storm just as anyone else, in some cases they are rebuilding their own worker centers (like the Bay Parkway Center that Sandy dragged into the Bay or the Center that was devastated in Staten Island) in order to get to the work of rebuilding the city and the region.
Home repair has always relied on the sweat and the strength of the day laborers and low-wage construction workers hired. After a disaster, that is all the more true. Worker Centers who have served the function of connecting employers with reliable workers are more important than ever. A list of worker centers by region can be found at hireadaylaborer.org.
As the shock, sorrow, and floodwaters subside, I am proud to know that day laborers and other low-wage workers and the Centers who serve them will play a vital role in recovery, to hear that they are planning volunteer clean-up days to repair the neighborhoods they love and call home, and I am dedicated to ensuring that disaster is seen as a time to come together, not an opening to take advantage of workers dedicated to repair.
If you would like to hire a day laborer for your own repair needs or donate construction materials for volunteer efforts, you can find a worker center near you at hireadaylaborer.org.