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Day Laborers Can Fight Wage Theft With This New Organizing App

Without protections, day laborers often get screwed. Now they have some recourse.

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Wage theft, when your employer doesn't pay you for all your hours worked, happens in all industries where people are paid by the hour. It is worse among laborers, though, because they are often immigrant workers who either have little power to fight back, or because their employers think that they are illegal immigrants, and exploit that vulnerability. And of course, there are plain logistics—working in different places every day means mistakes can happen when tracking hours worked.

Jornaler@ is an app and service that lets day laborers track their work hours, and also to report abusive employers, and other wage-related violations. The name comes from the Spanish for day laborer, and was created at Cornell in collaboration day workers by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). The smartphone app has three main functions: Checking in and out of work, reporting abuse, and alerting other users to dodgy employers. The app also contains information on workers rights, so users can stay informed about what they can expect and demand. "This new app will encourage organizing and will send a powerful message to abusive employers that wage theft will not be tolerated," said NDLON Executive Director Pablo Alvarado in a statement.

Using Jornaler@, workers can easily punch in and out, and keep track of other information like vehicle model and license plate, hourly wage, work license, location, and breaks taken. This information is stored both on the employee's phone, and on a central server at an NDLON network worker center. In the case of wage theft, the employee has all the necessary information at hand to make a claim, and can get help from their local NDLON center, where their information is already stored. And if the local worker center isn't yet connected, that's easy for them to do—NDLON has somebody responsible for doing just that.

"Nationwide, studies have shown that over 50% of day laborers have experienced some type of wage theft," says Cornell. "Much of their employment is established on a temporary and informal basis, which makes them a target for unethical and unscrupulous employers."

The combination of time-tracking app—as used by many freelancers—along with a network of work centers could be a powerful one. Strength comes from solidarity, so the app also tries to build a network for the people that use it. The alert function lets workers post a location-based warning around bad employers, or jobs that don't pay, so that other Jornaler@ users can avoid it. If it takes off, this part of the app could end up being a powerful tool against abuse.

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