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Sanchez: Day laborers offer negotiating tips

  • Story Highlights
  • Laborers in Palisades Park say two days of work at $90/day is a good week
  • They hope to earn enough money to send some to family in other countries
  • Some seem bitter about life in the U.S., but claim they stay for the money
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From Rick Sanchez
CNN
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Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences covering the news. Here, CNN Anchor Rick Sanchez describes spending some time with day laborers for a report that will air on 'Out in the Open' tonight at 8 ET.

Sanchez

CNN's Rick Sanchez, pictured center, visits a street corner where many people gather to seek manual labor jobs.

PALISADES PARK, New Jersey (CNN) -- For four hours Friday morning, I joined about 200 immigrants -- legal and illegal -- at a day-laborer site at the corner of East Columbia Avenue and Broad Avenue in downtown Palisades Park, New Jersey.

My goal was not to find a job; rather it was to see how day laborers go about finding one themselves.

Dressed in jeans, running shoes and a short-sleeve shirt, I looked like one of them. I also carried over my shoulder a bag containing a hidden camera.

Day laborer sites like this one have sprung up all over the country. The laborers -- mostly immigrants, mostly men -- come to them to find jobs in construction or masonry or painting or landscaping.

Some communities encourage the formation of these sites. In others, they have become lightning rods of controversy. In Palisades Park, they have become fixtures.

At the site I visited, the last thing the folks there needed was more competition for jobs, but they nonetheless welcomed me into their group. They gave me pointers about how to get a good job.

"Always ask how much," one man told me in Spanish as he prepped me in the art of negotiating for a days' wage.

Another said it's better to be paid by the day instead of the hour. That way you're assured of a decent payment even if the work is cut short or the job is finished early.

The guys I met told me they come here seven days a week. They wait and wait and wait for work.

"Sometimes there's no work, sometimes there is work. Not every day," one man said.

It gets worse when winter comes.

"When it's cold, there's no work," another told me.

A good week, they said, is one where they get offered jobs on two days for about $90 a day. That's a weekly salary of $180. It's barely enough to put food on the table, but it's better than the alternative. Life in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, they said, offers little in the way of income -- about $5 a week for manual labor.

"We don't have a choice but to try to save a little bit and go back to our country," a 23-year-old Guatemalan man told me.

The routine is simple: Show up early and wait for hours until a prospective employer shows up, if one shows up. As more people flock to these sites the competition for jobs gets intense.

"There are a lot of people ... and I mean a lot of people at the stop here. So you no longer get a lot of work," the Guatemalan said.

On Friday, I was there for 3½ hours until I finally witnessed a job offer. It came from, ironically, another immigrant. He was from the Ivory Coast, Africa, new in America himself, and delighted to provide work for fellow immigrants. He was looking for someone to help him move furniture and other belongings.

These immigrants -- the African with a job and the Latinos seeking work -- negotiated the job terms in broken English, with African and Spanish accents swirling in the air.

"I need two," said the African employer referring to the number of workers.

"Two dollars is not enough," responded the Guatemalan.

After much arm waving and false starts, they eventually figured out what the other was saying and a deal was struck.

Many of the men here have a love-hate relationship with the United States. They miss their home countries but feel compelled to stay here out of economic necessity.

"All you get in this country is bitterness, sadness and loneliness," one man told me.

"But money," I interjected.

"Of course, that's true," he responded. "First place is ... the money, that's why we come." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Alison Ginsberg contributed to this report.

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