A veteran journalist immerses himself in the world of blue-collar, day-labor workers.
Driven simultaneously by financial concerns and sheer curiosity about the plight of gypsy workers finding cash jobs on a day-to-day basis, Reavis (English/North Carolina State Univ.; The Ashes of Waco, 1995, etc.) signed up at an agency that matches individual workers with the short-terms needs of clients ranging from construction companies to factory operators. Each chapter details the author’s experiences at different job sites with a diverse range of laborers. Reavis disguises the names of his fellow workers, their bosses and the employment-agency personnel. Despite the false names, the author brings his subjects to vivid life. The tensions between the day laborers and their supervisors dominates the text, but camaraderie, sometimes based on shared misery, shines through as well. As the national economy began to collapse, some of the workers were forced to accept undesirable job assignments. Although Reavis’s colleagues were “accustomed to living on the edge,” he worried that the economic recession would shove many of them “off a precipice, into a chasm with no safety net. Even they were not prepared for that.” Part of the desperation, unsurprisingly, revolved around the lack of health insurance for day laborers. Reavis focuses on the workers who showed up each morning in organized halls, but he also glances at street-corner day laborers, many of them without immigration papers, who suffer maximum exploitation at the hands of those who need short-term muscle for dangerous tasks.
A welcome change of pace from books about corporate tycoons and comfortable workplace technocrats.