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Phone app helps laborers report abuse, fight wage theft

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Melissa Osgood

Day laborers (“jornaleras” in Spanish) face the risk of not getting paid for their work, being paid less than the minimum wage or being subjected to workplace dangers outside of their control.

To address these challenges, New York day labor centers in collaboration with The Worker Institute at Cornell ILR have developed a new tool – a mobile phone application to prevent wage theft and other violations of worker rights.

The Jornaler@ app allows users to share their experiences and report abusive and neglectful employers, effectively inserting transparency and simplifying the job of record keeping. The app allows laborers to keep track of hours and earnings; report wage theft to a workers center; and alert other workers about bad employers.

Maria Figueroa, director of labor and policy research for The Worker Institute, and research specialist Legna Cabrera played a critical role in bringing together workers, researchers, advocates and organizers to develop the app.

“Our involvement in the Jornaler@ app project has primarily consisted of hosting and facilitating forums for worker center leaders and members to develop the content for the application,” said Figueroa, who co-chairs the Precarious Workforce Initiative. “We hope that the app will soon become an important platform to disseminate information about labor rights and standards to a vulnerable workforce.”

In addition to providing a valuable tool to workers, organizers and advocates, the app gathers data on a group of workers that can be challenging to study due to its diverse geographies and populations.

“We’re interested in the number of day laborers seeking work in the New York metro area as well as on their working conditions,” Figueroa said. “This information will be helpful for worker organizations to build capacity needed to serve this population. It will also enable labor advocates and policymakers to develop policy that would address the needs of this vulnerable workforce.”

On Nov. 21, The Worker Institute at Cornell helped launch the Jornaler@ app with a press conference at Hart Playground in Queens, New York.

According to Lara Skinner, associate director of The Worker Institute, the importance of this event goes well beyond launching a new tool to fight wage theft.

“The outcome of the recent presidential election has created a pronounced sense of uncertainty and anxiety among immigrant working families across the country,” she said. “In light of the election, holding a gathering of day laborers at one of the busiest day-labor sites in the country signifies that the workers and their allies stand firm in their commitment to protect the labor rights of all workers, and to strive for a democratic and equitable society.”

Speaking at the event were Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO; Kenneth E. Rigmaiden, general president of International Union of Painters and Allied Trades; Pablo Alvarado, executive director of National Day Laborers Organizing Network; Manuel Castro, executive director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment; (NICE); and Jeff Grabelsky, associate director of The Worker Institute at Cornell.

According to Trumka: “This is an example of using technology as a tool for shared prosperity. We want to make sure that every worker in this country knows that they are not alone. We continue to stand firm on the side of all working people and commit to protecting these day laborer corners the way we will protect our union halls, in the face of any attack.”

Developed in partnership with NICE and the AFL-CIO, and conceived with the support, research and collaboration of immigrant day laborers, organizers, developers and lawyers, the Jornaler@ app links the struggle for immigrant workers’ rights to the concept of community accountability.

Visit the project page on The Worker Institute website to learn more.

Stephen D’Angelo is a marketing communications specialist at the ILR School.

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