My Experience Working for a Day Labor Company
In 1997, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona with nothing more than my car and $350 in my pocket. I left the town I called home where my opportunities were limited and work was scarce. I had no clue what I was going to do when I arrived in Arizona, but I had a gut feeling that I stood a better chance of finding work and bettering my $4.25 an hour rate.
I got myself a hotel room for the week and felt that was enough time to find a gig that was promising and paid well. I hit the streets and applied everywhere I could. If you can think it, I applied at it. I applied at banks, grocery stores, convenience stores, construction companies, security companies, warehouses, fast food joints, restaurants, schools, hotels, at the airport, and even at government and city facilities. I must have applied to nearly 50 places during my first two days in Phoenix. I got a few call-backs and interviews set up and I was on top of the world. I had 5 days left at the hotel and could maybe pay for another week. That should buy me enough time to secure a job and start making some money.
Things actually play a lot better in my head than they do in real life. I really hadn’t thought about the time it would take not only to find a job, but to earn my first paycheck. I would soon find out exactly how long it would take for me to conceivably get hired anywhere; an eternity. I made it through 3 interviews successfully, and each employer wanted to set up a 2nd interview with upper management. This seemed to be the theme everywhere I applied. Before too long, I discovered than in addition to a 2nd interview, I may be called back for a 3rd and if hired, I would most likely be scheduled for a drug test. It was obvious to me at this point, that the $350 in my pocket would burn a hole in it way before I got hired anywhere. It was time to panic.
I hit the pavement again on my 3rd day of job searching. There had to be someone that would hire me sooner rather than later. I’d be out of money soon and the thought of having to live out of my car until I got any semblance of a paycheck was not too appealing to me. I stumbled into an office where a company advertised a motto that read, “Work Today, Get Paid Today”. The company was looking to hire day laborers for various work projects. The thought of making quick cash was just what I needed. Not only was I running out of money for a place to stay, eating Ramen Noodles every day was beginning to get old. I walked into the business and asked the receptionist for an application. She took out what seemed to be a hefty pile of applications and handed me one. I sat down and began to fill in the blank spaces I had already begun accustomed to filling out countless times throughout the week. With a completed application in hand, I turned it in to the receptionist and figured I would get the “We’ll review your application and call you soon” speech. Instead, the receptionist, who introduced herself as Nancy, began to ask me questions about my availability and whether or not I had transportation. Considering I still had no job and a decently running car, Nancy then surprised me with her next statement. “Okay, well, we’ve already assigned all the jobs for the day, so make sure to be here early tomorrow so we can assign something to you. We open at 7am, but you might want to start lining up outside by at least 5am. It’s pretty much first come, first served here. I you want work, we have work for you.”
Just like that, I was hired. I don’t know if it’s that easy today, but for the time, I was ecstatic that I would be making money soon. The next morning, I got to the place at 5am and there was already a line of workers at the door. There must have been at least 20 people waiting in line. The line grew to about 50 or 60 by the time the place opened up at 7am.
It was my turn in line and the office staff was still giving out assignments. My first assignment was at a video store about 15 miles away. The pay was $7.50 an hour, which was $3.75 more an hour than I was accustomed to earning. I wasn’t given many details about the job but was told to head straight to the address on the assignment sheet and meet the with the store owner. I arrived at the video store and so had three other workers I had been in line with at the office. The store owner greeted us and gave us instructions on what we were to do for the day. If we worked out well, he would have us come back for another day of work. That day, we assembled video shelves that were to be used to display all the movies available for rent. Unbeknown to us was that we were assembling shelves for a new Blockbuster Video store. At least, I thought that was pretty neat.
At the end of the day, I had clocked in a total of 10 hours. That’s right, I made a cool $75 for the day. I headed back to the office, turned in my timecard and received a check for my
day’s wages. Sure I had to pay the regular taxes, but the fact that I had money to my name meant that I would not starve and more importantly, that I could continue to earn money to pay for a place to stay while I completed the interview process with other potential employers.
I worked as a day laborer for a period of three weeks before I was hired at a bank as a customer service phone representative. The pay at my new job was $8 an hour and I couldn’t be happier. For 1997, $8 an hour was a great start anywhere. While I worked for the day labor place, I held stop signs at street construction sites, collected tickets at a monster truck show, unloaded cabinets at a developing apartment complex, picked up construction area garbage, and helped assemble shelves at a video store. I had work every single day and even on weekends. I had the motivation to work and stayed busy earning money. I earned enough to feed myself, keep gas in my car, and a roof over my head.
Years later, I would hit on tough times and the regular 9 to 5 was just not cutting it. It was during those lean times when I would return to the day labor place and picked up a few jobs here and there. I stayed above water. I kept surviving. I paid my bills. I got my stuff together and eventually lightened my work load.
Places like that day labor office still exist today and even though I am now working on a fruitful career, I know that if times ever get tough again, I’ll know exactly where to go.
-Omar Tarango is a Freelance Blogger and Social Media Manager-