View/Open - Scholarworks @ CSU San Marcos

Comments

Transcription

View/Open - Scholarworks @ CSU San Marcos
“Doing Mexican Work”: An Analysis of Mexican
Labor in the Drywall/Taper Trade of the Construction
Industry
By Diego Avalos
Research Guidance Committee
Garry Rolison, Ph.D.
Alicia Gonzales, Ph.D.
Sharon Elise, Ph.D.
May 2013
ABSTRACT
This study examines the experiences of Mexican construction workers in the
nonunion residential construction sector of the drywall/taper trade. Mexican workers
make up the largest drywall/taper workforce in San Diego County, working under some
of the lowest wages and worst conditions in the industry. This research discovers how
Mexicans continue to be the largest workforce in the trade and how they resist the
exigencies of the industry. The project conducted nine in-depth interviews with both
documented and undocumented workers. Findings reveal citizenship status has no affect
on worker wages and labor conditions. Mexican workers are racially segmented into the
labor class of the trade, with limited promotional ladders. However, workers do not allow
the structure of the industry to dictate their opportunities in the trade. Mexican workers
employ a gamut of strategies to convert what may appear to be dead-end careers into
occupational opportunities. Workers resist the unstable construction industry by creating
informal lateral and horizontal pathways into better working conditions, higher pay, and
informal business-like arrangements in the industry, thus creating pathways into positions
of management—positions that otherwise would be sealed off in the formal market but
are now achievable through informal means.
Keywords: informal economy, colonial system of labor, subcontractor, outsourced labor.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
“DOING MEXICAN LABOR” ...........................................................................................1
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM ...................................................................................4
LITERATURE REVIEW ....................................................................................................7
Residential Construction and the Drywall/Taper Trade .........................................7
The Informal Economy of the Residential Construction Market .............................8
Split-Labor Market ................................................................................................15
Racial Segmentation ..............................................................................................16
THEORY ............................................................................................................................17
Critical Race Theory ..............................................................................................17
Internal Colonialism ..............................................................................................18
METHODS ........................................................................................................................19
Qualitative Research ..............................................................................................20
SIGNIFICANCE ................................................................................................................28
RESEARCH QUESTION..................................................................................................29
FINDINGS .........................................................................................................................30
Arrangement of Outsourced Labor ........................................................................30
Americans Know How to Work, But they are Slow ...............................................41
The Only Thing About Papers is that I can go to Mexico ......................................51
My Father Laid me off for two Weeks ....................................................................55
Resisting the Structure ...........................................................................................58
DISCUSSION ....................................................................................................................64
IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH ................................................................69
APPENDIX. Participant narratives in their original language........................................73
REFERENCES ..................................................................................................................77
1
“DOING MEXICAN LABOR”
My father grew up in a working-class family in a quaint town 80 miles from
Guadalajara, Mexico, in Juchitlan, Jalisco, with a population of 5,000 people. As the
youngest of seven siblings, by the age of 10 his duties entailed tending to the livestock.
Every day at the break of dawn, before attending grade school, my father would herd the
sheep and cows to graze in a valley five miles from his home. At the end of the school
day he retrieved the livestock from the valley and herded them back to their pens and
corrals. This daily routine continued until he was 16 years old, when he migrated to the
United States to work in the agricultural fields. As he followed the seasons of cherries,
almonds, strawberries, and walnuts, my father migrated up and down the U.S. west coast
of California, Oregon, and Washington. After a few years of working in the agriculture
fields, my father jumped at the first opportunity to work in the drywall/taper trade of the
construction industry. The pay was greater, the work was indoors shielded from the wear
of the sun, and the industry provided the opportunity for year-long work.
Currently, my father continues to work in the drywall/taper trade. At the age of 63
he has little to show after numerous years of work in the industry except the 43 years of
experience, the calluses on his hands, the back problems, and the weekly struggle of
living paycheck to paycheck. He still does not have medical insurance or a pension plan,
with the exception of the small Social Security benefits he has accrued through the years.
However, the Social Security benefits do not reflect his net earnings during his lifetime,
given the majority of work performed in the industry is paid in cash under the table.
It is not an uncommon practice for firms to circumvent medical benefits,
Workers’ Compensation Insurance, and taxes in an effort to increase profit margins. In
2
many instances, firms illegally deducted from workers cash salaries. Scott Wilson
Drywall, for example, a firm based in San Marcos, California, would pay their workers in
cash while audaciously justifying a tax deduction. Taxes from what? The workers
earnings were never reported to the Internal Revenue Service, nor did the drywall/taping
firm provide a pension plan or benefits to validate an additional expenditure. These are
the bleak realities of the industry. Much like my father’s experience, thousands of
workers are trapped in the industry’s extralegal system of employment without the
capacity to get out.
I was born into the construction industry. By the age of 15 I routinely worked
alongside my father in the summers and during weekends. By the time I reached high
school I reported to the jobsite every day after school. It was important for my father to
instill a strong work ethic, just as his father did when he was young. I recollect the times
my father commented to his employers, “I work on all American holidays. I am Mexican.
I do not celebrate Thanksgiving because I have nothing against the poor turkey.” On
occasion a homeowner would wittingly reply, “What about Mexican holidays? You work
then?” My father would counter, “Well, on Mexican holidays I am American.”
In hindsight, I recall the trouble I had comprehending my father’s statements in
what appeared a desperate attempt at employment. I asked my father why he refused to
take holidays off. He asserted, “When there is work we have to work. Work comes first.”
I remember being disappointed with my father’s work ethic. Employers would joke at our
expense, “Victor [my father] does not take days off. He works Sundays and holidays. He
will get mad if you give him a day off.” Soon I came to comprehend that my father’s
statements were part of a deeper understanding of the Mexican community and “their
3
work.” I was naïve to the industry. He understood the demands inscribed upon our brown
bodies. An industry plagued with high expectations of productivity, harsh working
conditions, and low wages with no benefits. This was “Mexican work,” back-breaking
work often referred to as “illegal work;” undesirable work viewed as a job for Mexicans
because they are commonly viewed as harder working, cheaper, and more docile
(Valenzuela 1995; Portes and Rumbaut 2006).
In my 13-year span working in the field, my experience parallels my father’s. I
have little to show for my years in the industry except the sweat from my brow and the
knowledge of back-breaking work. Employed in over 15 firms throughout San Diego
North County area, I have worked on large scale residential construction projects in
Rancho Santa Fe, La Jolla, Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Del Mar, and small remodeling
projects in destitute neighborhoods in Escondido, San Marcos, and Vista. My
construction experience spans the drywall/taper spectrum. Not limited to the residential
construction sector, I have worked on commercial projects such as skyscrapers, hotels,
and hospitals. From my experience, the industry is dynamic and unstable. I was regularly
moving from one project to the next and from one employer to the next just to remain
employed. The most consistent aspect of the industry is the nonexistence of benefits.
Benefits were reserved for unionized workers. Yet, union work is readily unavailable.
There exists limited union firms and breaching the long queue of workers in hiring halls
is an unrealistic expectation for employment. Even when workers did manage to acquire
union work, by no means have they “made it” in the industry because during industry
slowdowns, former unionized workers often returned to nonunion work (where the bulk
of the industry remains).
4
This project will venture into the nonunion residential construction industry of the
drywall/taper trade, into a sector of the industry commonly referred as “Mexican work,”
or “illegal work.” This is an industry made up predominantly of Latino workers
nationwide (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010), specifically Mexican workers in San
Diego County. As the researcher, I will draw from my experiences and those of my
coworkers to discover how Mexican drywall/tapers, undocumented and documented,
experience the extralegal practices of the residential construction sector; and how
Mexicans continue to dominate the industry—an industry notorious for paying workers in
cash, no access to benefits or pensions to avoid Workers’ Compensation or taxes, and
denying workers legally mandated rights and protections (Rabourn 2008). An industry
where stories of abuse, being shorthanded money, unsafe working conditions, or unpaid
overtime are not uncommon (Rabourn 2008).
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Residential construction is the largest construction sector operating union-free in
many parts of the United States (Rabourn 2008). Some of the jobs it provides offer some
of the lowest wages and worst conditions in the industry (Rabourn 2008). Residential
construction’s growing informal economy of paying workers in cash and no access to
benefits or pensions to avoid Workers’ Compensation or taxes pushes wages down,
denies workers legally mandated rights and protections, and creates a deregulated system
where employees are caught between not able to emerge from it without being liable for
unpaid taxes or faced with the possibility of deportation due to the large presence of an
undocumented labor force (Rabourn 2008).
5
According to labor scholar Rabourn, it is the decline of unionism in residential
construction during the 1960s and the growth of nonunion company’s market shares in
this sector that has been the driving force behind the exploitive practices in the residential
construction sector (2008). Congruent with a weak organizing presence, residential
construction failed to organize its growing Latina/o migrant labor force (Rabourn 2008).
Building trades refused to organize this sector of the construction industry because the
general feeling by union leaders and its members was that undocumented workers
weakened the standards of the trade and were not skilled enough to join the union
(Rabourn 2008). This fettered Latinas/os organizing potential. Giving rise to greater
exploitive practices accompanied by the growth of informal employment and an
underground cash economy (Rabourn 2008). The few Latinas/os who did manage to
make their way into the building trade unions had little accommodation for contracts and
apprenticeship programs because they were kept as English-only projects (Nissen 2002;
Rabourn 2008).
This growing extralegal system of employment has expanded beyond the
undocumented migrant workers used in the residential market for citizens and
undocumented migrants alike (Erlich and Grabelsky 2005; Rabourn 2008). Firms and
employers are the greatest beneficiaries of the extralegal system, whereas Mexican
migrants are blamed for its unregulated character. These destabilizing labor market issues
are a source of economic tension for domestic workers in the American economy who
fault migrants for worsened labor-market opportunities, pushing out domestic workers
(“taking American jobs”) and driving down wages (Valenzuela 1995; Chomsky 2007).
6
Worsened labor-market opportunities are blamed on “illegal aliens,” a brand
inscribed on the identities of Latinas/os. According to prominent scholars, “illegal”
proves to be a racialization feature of Latinas/os, specifically Mexicans in the United
States (De Genova 2005; Rosaldo 1997; Chavez 2008). Rosaldo (1997) argues “illegal”
is two-fold; first it suggests undocumented workers fail to obey and live outside the law.
On the contrary, undocumented workers are in fact more law-abiding citizens than
domestic citizens, for the slightest infraction would mean deportation. Second, the brand
of illegality suggests covertly yet powerfully that all Latinas/os are foreigners who come
under questionable circumstances (Rosaldo 1997). Consequently, illegality is embedded
in Latinas/os’ social identities as illegitimate members of society who are unworthy of
social benefits, including citizenship (Chavez 2008; Rosaldo 1997). By maintaining this
community deportable and “their work” eminently disposable, undocumented
construction workers are dependent on labor market supply and demand forces beyond
their control.
The social production of the label “illegal immigrant” serves a binary purpose in
the construction field. First, it preserves a vulnerable and deportable labor force and
relieves construction firms of its responsibilities towards its migrant labor.
Undocumented workers are held responsible for providing their own transportation,
housing, and social services while working for substandard wages (Akers and Davis
2006). Documented workers are employed under similar conditions without benefits or
unemployment securities due to the large cash economy under which the industry
operates. The Mexican working class, undocumented workers specifically, are
quintessential neoliberal workers who must find ways to maintain their health and survive
7
employment layoffs under free market conditions. The mark of illegality maintains
Mexican labor as a disposable commodity. Illegality lives through the condition of
deportability where some are deported so most may remain as undeported workers (De
Genova 2005), actively recruiting inclusion through illegalization.
In the following section I will review literature which analyzes the informal
economy, subcontracting, and its connection to the residential construction sector. This
includes informal practices which have historically channeled Mexican migrants into the
least desirable jobs of the trade, conditions which maintain Mexican low skilled migrant
workers restricted to manual labor occupations of the drywall/taper trade. I will also
review research on split labor markets and scholarship on racial segmentation from
prominent scholars who conducted seminal work on issues of low-skilled labor and
inequality in the United States.
LITERATURE REVIEW
RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION AND THE DRYWALL/TAPER TRADE
Before I engage in the literature, I will describe the residential construction
industry of the drywall/taper trade. Residential construction refers to the alteration,
erection, or repair of structures that function as housing. This can include multi-building
units such as apartments, condominiums, hotels, dormitories, and townhouses (Finkel
1997). This industry is highly decentralized, consisting over 100,000 firms in 2002 with
the top 400 contractors operating less than 33 percent of the overall market (Rabourn
2008). The general contractor or the construction management firm is typically hired by
an owner/developer to manage the construction process. The general contractor or
construction management firm takes full responsibility to manage the job (except for
8
specified portions of the job that may be omitted from the contract). General contractors
may do portions of the job but often subcontract most of the work to specialty trade
contractors, also known as subcontractors. Specialty trade contractors bid on specific
parts of the construction process such as painting, drywall/taping, plumbing, or heating.
Specialty contractors have no responsibility for the structure as a whole beyond the scope
of their trade. Hence, workers become experts in specified tasks performed over and over
again, allowing for efficiency and speed in the installation and erection process of the
construction.
The drywall/taper trade is the specialization of the installment of gypsum wall
board and the performance of taping and texturing operations with joint compounds to
produce a continuous smooth surface or textured surface on the interior walls of the
building (Contractors State License Board [CSLB] 2010). The CSLB (2010) identifies 44
specialty trades. Specialty trades amount to 64% of the construction industry’s $7.2
million, wage and salary jobs nationwide in 2008, while 11.5% of all wage and salary
jobs are centered in the residential construction of buildings (BLS 2010).
THE INFORMAL ECONOMY OF THE RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION MARKET
The informal economy is commonly viewed as a marginal phenomena caused by
the survival needs of the poor, who in their precarious position are willing to accept a
substandard wage (Fernandez-Kelly and Anna 1989; Castells and Portes 1989; SassenKoob 1989). Since undocumented migrant workers are the major constituents of the
informal residential construction sector they are blamed for its existence and subsistence.
They come under particularly intense scrutiny because there is speculation that their
participation in the market contributes to worsened labor-market opportunities, job
9
competition (taking “American jobs”), and driven-down wages (Valenzuela 1995;
Chomsky 2007).
Despite deafening stereotypes, the informal economic process cuts across the
social structure of economic activity and are a complex and integral part of advanced
capitalistic economies (Fernandez-Kelly and Garcia 1989; Baneria 1989; Portes, Castells,
and Benton 1989).
Popular media negatively portrays the informal economy as contributing to the
loss of funds towards the improvement of infrastructure and other public goods and
services. Portes et al. (1989), in his seminal work of the informal economy, describe the
unregulated sector as a mirror-like organization reflecting its alternative, the formal
economy, both fitting as parts of the same puzzle. In the following section I will describe
the informal residential construction sector and how it is an integral and inseparable part
of this industry’s formal economic process.
Connection to the Formal Economy
Portes et al. (1989) have found common aspects of a deregulated economy,
despite the non-universality of the informal economy. These features of the informal
economy are relevant to the residential construction sector. The first is the systemic
connection to the formal economy. The informal residential construction sector has a
long history of informal employment of migrant workers as its main labor source,
particularly since the decline of unionism in the 1960s (Rabourn 2008). With a
dilapidated organizing sector around residential construction, the sector’s refusal to
organize around its growing Latina/o migrant workforce, and the growth of nonunion
10
company market shares in this sector, gave rise to greater exploitive practices of informal
employment and an underground cash economy (Rabourn 2008).
A common objective of informalization is circumventing organized labor’s
control over the work process. Under this perspective unions become obstacles for
capitalistic profit margins (Portes et al. 1989). By breaking up large firms into semiautonomous organizations, “the specialized networks formed by unregulated enterprises
free large firms from the constraints imposed upon them by social control and
institutional norms” (Portes et al. 1989: 26). For example, firms contracting work to
subcontractors entrust part of the responsibility dealing with labor issues in the workplace
(Weil 2005; Rabourn 2008). According to Zlolniski’s (2006) research on Mexican
migrants in Silicon Valley, subcontracting legally delegates the responsibility of working
conditions and immigration status to the subcontractors. Thus, allowing firms to access
cheap migrant labor without the financial costs and legal risks of directly employing them
(Zlolniski 2006). As a result, the construction industry’s organizing function of specialty
contractors institutionalizes the extralegal employment of undocumented workers into the
formal economy.
Downgraded Labor
A second aspect of the informal economy is that workers involved in the
deregulated market tend to have special characteristics (Portes et al. 1989). Sassen-Koob
(1989) describes these workers as downgraded labor. Portes et al. (1989) argues their
vulnerability is not randomly produced; workers who receive fewer wages and benefits
than their counterparts in the formal economy do so because it is a prerequisite for their
entry into the labor market. Waldinger (1996) in a similar fashion, although by means of
11
a more individualistic approach, describes these divisions of labor (particularly ethnic
divisions of labor) as the formation of a queue, a pecking order of the most favorable jobs
available to the most dominant and influential groups, while the most undesirable jobs are
left to the most marginalized communities (Waldinger 1996).
The informal residential construction sector is complementarily coupled with the
formal sector of the construction process. This complementary relationship further
divides the industry’s workforce into primary and secondary labor markets. Expanding
beyond undocumented migrant workers to include citizens and undocumented migrants
alike (Erlich and Grabelsky 2005), the residential construction sector has established a
queue system of labor directed as “Mexican work” or “illegal” work in the secondary
market. Generated by institutional arrangements in the industry it insulates migrant
workers from primary market processes (Piore 1986) and segments them racially (Ong
and Valenzuela 1996) into less desirable jobs in the field. The gains to racial market
segmentation, according to De Genova’s (2005) research, is to prevent the mobilization
of a firm’s workforce and the subordination of labor through the alienation of employees.
Thus, Mexicans—but specifically undocumented Mexicans—become the quintessential
fit for the industry’s secondary labor market competing for primary labor relationships, a
workforce isolated institutionally and racially from core firms funneled into secondary
labor markets.
The Government and the Informal Economy
A final aspect of the informal economy is government attitude toward the
unregulated sector (Portes et al. 1989). While the legal construction of illegality
12
maintains this community vulnerable and subcontracting further flexes the labor of this
community, it is the governmental policies that stimulate the unregulated sector.
According to Portes and Rumbaut (2006) the United States has actively recruited
the inclusion of undocumented Mexican migrants through illegalization since 1965.
Research done by Standing (1989) demonstrates informalization is not always a process
developed outside state procedures but a new form of control through the
disenfranchisement of large sectors of the working class often under the compliance of
the state. The 1986 Immigration Reform Law brought “amnesty” to many undocumented
workers while establishing sanctions against the hiring of undocumented workers by
firms. Essentially the immigration law liberated employers from any liability of hiring
undocumented workers due to the simplicity of keeping files without a verification
procedure of the documents presented (De Genova 2005). This resulted in employer
immunity from the law while imposing larger expenses and liabilities on the migrant
population (De Genova 2005).
Subcontracting
The management and design of the residential construction sector is generally for
efficiency (Rabourn 2008). Similar to manufacturing companies’ assembly line system,
subcontractors’ repetitive procedures allows for speed of erection and installation in the
building process. Specialized trades (subcontractors) allow for workers to become experts
in specific areas of the construction process, particularly in large residential
developments such as suburbs or tract homes where building structures change only
slightly from structure to structure thus lowering the need for broadly skilled workers
(Finkel 1997). Zlolniski describes subcontracting as an “indirect rule, an organizational
13
system in which a client company, while contracting with an independent service
provider is able to shape that provider’s organization of production and methods of labor
control in the workplace” (2006: 70).
Subcontracting is a phenomenon present in both formal and informal sectors,
involving several complementary advantages to construction companies. Attempting to
dichotomize subcontracting into formal and informal sectors is at best a simplification.
Workers move intermittently between the two sectors responding to needs and
opportunities created by the economic structures of the economy and policies by state and
federal agencies (Fernandez-Kelly and Garcia 1989:251). Under this context,
subcontracting is a mechanism used to draw cheap unprotected labor into the modern
process, lowering wage costs and increasing productivity (Benton 1989). In the
residential construction field this is played out through a cash payment system to evade
taxes and all worker benefits to undocumented and “legal” workers alike.
A second benefit achieved by firms contracting out parts of the construction
process is subcontractors take part of the risk for construction overruns and assume
responsibility for dealing with labor issues (Weil 2005). A large problem with siphoning
undocumented workers into modern processes is the risk of directly employing them.
Through subcontracting, firms legally avoid these responsibilities while reaping the
benefits of a flexible labor pool by “indirectly” hiring undocumented workers, bestowing
the responsibility of working conditions and immigration status to the subcontractor
(Zlolniski 2006).
The third benefit is greater control of the production process by client firms
(Zlolniski 2006). Firms always have the option of choosing their own subcontracting
14
companies and, due to the lack of bureaucratic structure, there is greater communication
between workers and owners (Zlolniski 2006). Owners of the company have direct
control over their workers through on-site foremen and supervisors who communicate
with employees enhancing labor flexibility and productivity (Zlolniski 2006). This allows
companies to adjust quickly and cheaply to demand (Zlolniski 2006). Ultimately,
subcontracting is a win-win situation for firms who hire them. Labor contracting
practices treat workers as commodities, covering only the basic production costs while
shifting the costs of reproduction and maintenance of labor to workers, their families, and
the state (Zlolniski 2006:179), while maintaining labor flexibility and control without
incurring the risks of informal employment practices (De Genova 2005; Zlolniski 2006).
From the Informal to the Formal
Subcontracting in residential construction is a mechanism used to benefit from
extralegal practices in formal sectors of the construction industry. Whereas conventional
wisdom points to informalization as the direct result of the survival strategies from
migrant groups, Sassen-Koob’s (1989) research on New York’s informal construction
economy demonstrates the process of informalization is found in the characteristics of the
economy. Immigrant communities become contingent to the structural patterns of the
informal process because they possess a “favored” position to the opportunities presented
by these structured informal patterns (Sassen-Koob 1989). Thus, subcontracting becomes
a middleman process connecting benefits of informal employment practices to formal
markets. This practice is largely dependent on state and federal agencies (FernandezKelly and Garcia 1989). Subcontractors tap into large pools of cheap migrant labor
15
though the disenfranchisement of these communities under the compliance of state and
federal agencies (Standing 1989), as discussed in previous sections.
SPLIT-LABOR MARKET
In the following sections I will discuss prominent work conducted in the area of
low skilled work and inequality in the United States. Piore describes the labor market is
divided into two main categories, the primary and secondary sectors (Piore 1986). The
primary sector contains high wages and benefits, better working conditions, and
employment security (Piore 1986; Ong and Valenzuela 1996). On the contrary, the
secondary sector encompasses low wages and few benefits (if any), poor working
conditions, limited on-the-job training, and considerable job instability (Piore 1986; Ong
and Valenzuela 1996).
This system of labor control and labor market structure emerged during the 1940s
in response to worker success forming large powerful labor unions, U.S. firms seeking
new methods of labor management problems, and corporations and unions fighting over
the structure of their interdependent relationship (Edwards, Gordon, and Reich 1982).
Core firms in the primary sector achieve efficiency through the progressive
division of the productive process into specialized industries consisting of narrowly
trained workers in the secondary market (Piore 1986). By coupling with periphery
secondary firms, core firms enjoy reduced risks of failure with higher profits (Edwards et
al. 1982). Through the establishment of a relationship between core firms and peripheral
firms, risks are transferred to secondary firms; it allows core firms a new form of labor
control while circumventing an organized workforce (Edwards et al. 1982). This saves
employee fringe benefits through the “indirect” employment of peripheral workers,
16
increased flexibility of productive operations, a low-cost alternative to the maintenance of
excess productive capacity during slack periods—and they can avoid products difficult to
standardize that would otherwise create difficulties in the supervision of workers
(Edwards et al. 1982). Since peripheral industries have low barriers of entry there is stiff
competition and overcrowding leaving them vulnerable to monopolistic exploitation by
core corporations (Edwards et al. 1982).
Under this view the argument is not that the U.S. workforce exhaustively falls
into one of the segmented labor categories or the other, but the labor market is
increasingly creating differentiated labor segments (Edwards et al. 1982). Edna Bonacich,
who conducted research on garment workers in Los Angeles, argues antagonisms rise
because of the extralegal hiring practices of employers segmenting work according to
race (1976). Bonacich explains these racial tensions are through the split labor market
theory; a difference in the price of labor for the same occupation split along ethnic lines
(1976). This creates a caste system of labor including cheap labor into specific sectors
while completely excluding it from certain types of work (Bonacich 1976).
RACIAL SEGMENTATION
Racial segmentation introduces race to the segmented labor market paradigm. The
general argument is race is used to allocate workers across segments resulting in the
racial segmentation of the labor force. While racial segmentation is not perfectly
distributed (because there are minorities across every sector of the labor force) the racial
divisions are significant enough to produce racial disparities that cannot be totally
explained by differences in human capital (Ong and Valenzuela 1996). Valenzuela
derives the racial-segmented perspective through the analysis of day labor workers in the
17
informal economy. Under this perspective race, is used to allocate workers and strengthen
the established labor market segmentation (Valenzuela 1995). A queue exists because
they are more desirable; viewed as harder working, cheap, or more docile comparatively
to natives (Valenzuela 1995). Thus race becomes a pervasive force in mediating job
hiring, setting wages, and concentrating workers in particular occupations (Valenzuela
1995).
THEORY
Using critical race theory and the internal colonial model as a theoretical lens, I
was able to establish a solid foundation for understanding how Mexicans continue to be
the largest workforce in the drywall/taper trade and how employment is arranged in the
construction industry.
CRITICAL RACE THEORY
The theoretical approach of critical race theory (CRT) offers a strong conceptual
framework to assign meaning and practical application of the research findings regarding
undocumented workers in the drywall/taper trade. The key components of CRT relevant
to the study include the centrality of race and racism, their intersectionality with other
forms of subordination such as citizenship standing, the challenge to dominant ideology
around immigration, the use of narratives and experience as a source of strength, the use
of an interdisciplinary knowledge base (such as history, law, sociology, ethnic studies,
women studies and humanities) to better understand the experiences of minorities of
color, and the commitment to social justice (Solórzano and Yosso 2002).
When working in the construction field, at the center of my experiences working
alongside undocumented coworkers was the use of storytelling to illustrate their
18
experiences. Narratives about crossing la frontera under the blanket of night, being
crammed in an SUV when it rolled attempting to outmaneuver la migra, and narratives
about not getting paid for completed work or underpayment, are not uncommon stories.
These narrations are negatively portrayed under conventional social science practices as
biased anecdotal evidence. CRT utilizes these experiences as sources of strength toward
the understanding of social justice. Critical race theory aligns well with the purpose of
this research project, with race as the centerpiece perspective voiced through individuals
in the margins. Through a critical race lens I will recant the stories I have captured
through interviews to provide a counter-narrative to dominant perspectives—a
perspective founded on the voices of resilient individuals who participate and resist the
racialized working projects of the residential drywall/taper trade on a daily basis.
INTERNAL COLONIALISM
While CRT will be the conceptual model guiding the research project, it will be
grounded with discussions on the Internal Colonial Model. Central to the Internal
Colonial Model is the colonial analogy, “the establishment of domination over a
geographically external political unit, most often inhibited by people of a different race
and culture, where this domination is political and economic and the colony exists
subordinated to and dependent on the mother country” (Blauner 1972: 83). Internal
colonialism refers to a common experience shared by subjugated racial minorities as one
of colonized peoples, reflecting a racial inequality (Blauner 1972).
Here the colonial analogy will be used to describe a colonial system of labor
segmenting along ethnic and/or racial lines while maintaining one or more of the
segments systemically in a subordinate position (Barrera 1979). According to Blauner,
19
the experience of racial minorities in the United States with “unfree labor” has been the
key factor to their differentiation from European immigrants (Blauner 1972). Labor
repression of undocumented Mexicans to limit their degree of freedom is an aspect of the
colonial labor system. A second aspect is the practice of paying one wage to minorities
while another to nonminority workers who perform the same task. Thus, the
characterization of Mexican labor as cheap comes under this practice. The third segment,
and the most pertinent to the project, is the classification of certain kinds of jobs as suited
for minorities and others for non-minorities, resulting in minorities concentrated in the
least desirable jobs through informal practices (Barrera 1979). The last tenet reflective of
the colonial model is the use of minorities as a reserve labor force to give elasticity to the
labor force maintaining low wages and the use of unemployed workers to leverage
bargaining and control of the labor force (Barrera 1979).
METHODS
My father began to take me along to the jobsites at the age of five, but I did not
begin to consistently work in the trade until the age of 15, at which point I had a
consistent work schedule and was assigned specific operations in the trade. I was a full
fledge journeyman by the age of 19, and by the age of 20 I began to branch out on my
own into other drywall/taper firms, working only sporadically with my father. Soon I
realized the social gain placed upon my English fluency and domination of U.S. culture.
Employers saw the budding benefits of my employment both as a, “beaner” with a
tremendous work ethic “willing” to work for substandard wages, and an “American”
fluent in the English language.
20
Due to my ability to socially navigate between U.S. and Mexican cultures,
employers would seek my employment to exploit my cultural capital. I was the medium
which eased the communication between employers, employees, and homeowners. The
employer, typically monolingual and white, never managed any part of the construction
process, and instead delegated all responsibilities to their employees. It was not
uncommon for employers to be absent throughout the entire construction process while
merely presenting themselves at the construction site to collect payment for work
completed.
Documentation and fluency of the English language awarded me an advantageous
position for self advocacy in the workplace. But, I found myself working under similar
working conditions vis-à-vis my undocumented coworkers. I lacked formal employment
securities: unemployment benefits, health insurance, and job stability. Securities thought
to be staples of formal citizenship status.
QUALITATIVE RESEARCH
The research project used interviews as its main source of data analysis and
collection. My 13-year experience in the field proceeds as the project’s ethnographic
backdrop guiding the research process. Ethnographic research is predicated on the
methodology of research immersion into the social worlds of people. To fully understand
and appreciate the perspectives of the participants’ one must get close and engage in the
everydayness of their activities (Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw 1995).
The project employed a qualitative methodological approach through open-ended
interviews to examine how the residential construction sector affects the work
experiences of undocumented journeyman drywall/tapers. The decision to use a
21
qualitative approach is anchored on its philosophical roots, emphasizing the importance
of interpreting social phenomena in the terms people bring to them (Denzin and Lincoln
2000; Patton 1987). Narratives have always been at the center of coworkers’ descriptive
experiences. During lunch time, while we heated tortillas in our small stoves, I would sit
on my upside-down bucket listening to stories about the hardships crossing la frontera
and the day-to-day experiences in the United States as a migrant worker. A large part of
the qualitative analysis is the detail it provides through direct quotes, people, events, and
observed behaviors, the ability to capture social phenomena through the lens of the
respondents (Patton 1987).
Research is the process of knowledge production; how knowledge is constantly
expanded. By choosing to work from the perspective of those from the margins the
production of knowledge comes from the voices of those who occupy this disadvantaged
space. Thus, the metaphor of the margin becomes a powerful metaphor for understanding
social inequality, liberation, disadvantage, and power (Smith 2006). According to Linda
Smith (2006) from the margins:
cultures are created and reshaped, people who are often seen by the mainstream
as dangerous, unruly, disrespectful of the status quo, and distrustful of
established institutions are also innovative; they are able to design their own
solutions, they challenge research and society to find the right solutions. (P. 170)
My insider status in the field of construction congruent with my position as an
insider-outsider sociologist who has mastered sociological paradigms of the field
conveyed a critical posture throughout the research. Where a traditional sociologist may
22
see sociology as normal furthering the stock of common-sense knowledge, an insider is
likely to see anomalies (Collins 1986). Collins describes the insider perspective as:
At best…offers its occupants a powerful balance between the strengths of their
sociological training and the offerings of their personal and cultural experiences.
Nether subordinate then the other. Rather, experienced reality is used as a valid
source of knowledge for critiquing sociological facts and theories while
sociological thought offers new ways of seeing that experience reality. (P. 317)
Interviews
Interviews were the primary method of data-gathering. Traditionally interviewing
is guided by the principle; respondents are passive vessels of knowledge and if one wants
to find out about their thoughts and feelings the researcher has to ask the right questions
to tap into others’ “reality” (Holstein and Gubrium 2003). According to this approach,
researchers are expected not to reshape information that is extracted; interviews are
strictly structured to control minimal involvement (Holstein and Gubrium 2003). Under
this paradigm, interviewees become epistemologically passive in the production of
knowledge (Holstein and Gubrium 2003).
My approach decentralizes from the conventional approach of interviewing. The
interviews were grounded on a postmodern approach (Holstein and Gubrium 2003). By
activating the subject as an active agent of the production of knowledge, not only does
the subject offer details of experience but constructively adds and transforms the facts
and details (Holstein and Gubrium 2003). Under this methodology the subject cannot
spoil what he or she is subjectively creating because the interviewee is already an active
maker of meaning altering knowledge as a member of society (Holstein and Gubrium
2003). Holstein and Gubrium conclude (2003), “from the time one identifies a research
23
topic, to respondent selection, questioning and answering, and finally, to interpretation of
responses, interviewing itself is a concerted project for producing meaning” (p. 74).
Respondents are not perceived as creating reality but the ways they construct aspects of
reality in collaboration with the interviewer (Holstein and Gubrium 2003).
A large part of this perspective is attempting to do away with the traditional
hierarchical structure between researcher and respondent (Fontana and Frey 2000). The
interview process becomes a dialectic process where the interviewee and interviewer are
engaged in dialogue generating a negotiated text (Fontana and Frey 2000). While this
method of interviewing may lend the interviewee to exploit particular narratives, it is the
responsibility of the active interviewer to redirect the respondents storytelling to the
research task at hand (Holstein and Gubrium 2003).
Data Analysis
The interviews were digitally recorded and later transcribed. All but one interview
was conducted in Spanish and later translated to English. An important issue when
translating language is the deeply rooted translation of context and culture (Gonzales and
Lincoln 2006). A literal word translation will convey a meaning that is not parallel
across language and culture. According to Gonzales and Lincoln (2006), translation is a
two-part process, one that includes a linguistic translation coupled with a deep
understanding of cultural context. There are instances I do not translate the respondents’
narratives because there is no literal equivalency in English that captures the cultural
sensibilities of the dialogue. In such an instance the thematic analysis will be conducted
in English while the narratives will remain in Spanish. Borrowing from Anzaldua’s
24
(1987) invitation to present data in both languages, a mix of both will convey the
“language of the border,” where bilingual narratives exhibit great power.
Once the digital scripts were transcribed I coded the narratives into themes.
Qualitative analytic coding identified and categorized recurring themes and ideas
throughout the text (Emerson et al. 1995). These categorizations presented a series of
analytic possibilities for the experiences of Mexican construction workers in the
residential construction sector.
Participant Profile
I used a purposeful sampling method to find the nine candidates for my research
project. All participants were past coworkers with whom I worked during my
drywall/taper experience. All are Mexican journeymen with at least 10 years of
experience within their craft. Thus, each encompassed an expert sample of drywall/tapers
well acquainted with the ins and outs of the construction industry.
Three of the participants are undocumented, three recently documented, and the
last three cases are participants who migrated to the United States under legal
documentation status. This mixture of various citizenship statuses will present an
interesting contrast between the experiences of undocumented workers, recently
documented tradesmen, and documented workers, a dynamic which facilitates the
discovery of intersectionalities present in the field of construction as they are affected by
documentation and race.
Undocumented participants
Tony: is currently in his late 40s with 14 years of experience in the trade. He runs
his own informal construction business, working directly with general contractors and
25
homeowners. Tony’s older brother Eduardo and cousin Salvador are also participants in
this project. Tony initially migrated from Oaxaca, Mexico, to work in the flower
nurseries of San Diego North County. It was after the persistence of his younger brother
Eduardo that Tony decided to move from the agricultural field to the construction
industry.
Ignacio: migrated to the United States at the age of 16 from Toluca, Mexico. He
was networked into the trade by his fellow countrymen, Benny and Pilatos. Now 26 years
old, Ignacio currently has 10 years of experience in the trade. Ignacio previously worked
as a day laborer tending to the general maintenance of a house in Hidden Meadows,
Escondido. My father recruited Ignacio from the day labor site in Hidden Meadows.
Benny: is currently in his mid-30s. He migrated from Toluca, Mexico, in 1994 to
work in the agricultural fields of Fresno, California. He was drawn to Escondido by a
relative who worked as day laborer in gardening in the area of Hidden Meadows,
Escondido. Like Ignacio and Pilatos, Benny was raised in the small town of Toluca,
Mexico. Benny has 13 years of experience in the trade.
Documented participants
Rafael: is the most experienced worker in my sample, with 36 years of
experience in the trade. He is currently in his early 50s. He migrated to the United States
from Jalisco, Mexico. Rafael is my cousin from my father’s side of the family. He was
networked into the field by my father and is the only participant who attended formal
schooling in the United States. Rafael is a member of the union and often works
nonunion to survive the unstable employment conditions of the trade.
26
Juan: is in his early 40s and has 16 years of experience in the trade. He migrated
on a visitor’s visa from Tecate, Mexico, where he previously worked as firefighter. Juan
moved to the United States after repeatedly being frustrated with the department’s lack of
funds. The fire truck and ambulance would break down on a regular basis. Juan arranged
permanent residency status after marrying a U.S. citizen. He is one of two participants
who received formal schooling and the only one to receive it in Mexico. Juan is also the
only participant to receive a C-9 class license. He currently owns his own legitimate
drywall company.
Salvador: is currently in his early 50s with 17 years of experience in the trade.
Cousin of Eduardo and Tony, Salvador migrated from Oaxaca, Mexico. His previous
occupation was at a flower nursery. After being laid-off, Salvador was recruited by my
father from an informal day labor site in Carlsbad, San Diego, known as el pollo. El
pollo, meaning the chicken in English, is a market in Carlsbad known for its large plastic
chicken plopped on the roof top of the market.
Recently documented participants
Manuel: previously worked in the agricultural fields of Jalisco, Mexico. He first
migrated to the United States at the age of 17 in search for better economic opportunities.
He was persuaded to migrate to the United States after his brother remarked, “In the U.S.
you sweep [the floors] with dollar bills.” Before establishing himself in San Diego,
Manuel lived in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. Now 37 years old, Manuel received legal
documentation status in 2010. He was networked into the trade through his older brother.
Because he never got along well with his brother, he ventured on his own by the age of
19. Manuel is the only participant in my study who was not introduced into the trade by
27
my father. In between working union and nonunion work, Manuel has established many
connections in the informal market.
Eduardo: is in his early 40s. Eduardo has 19 years of experience in the trade.
Eduardo received legal citizenship status in 2011. His older brother Tony still remains
undocumented. Similar to his brother, Eduardo previously worked at a flower nursery. He
was recruited to work in the construction industry through his cousin Salvador.
Pilatos: migrated to the United States from Toluca, Mexico, the same small town
in which Benny and Ignacio grew up. Initially working in the avocado fields of
Fallbrook, California, Pilatos began to work in the construction industry after being
networked through his uncle (who knew my father). Currently 26 years old, Pilatos has
10 years of experience in the trade. He received legal citizenship status in 2004, two
years after arriving to the United States illegally.
El Vale
El Vale was the nickname awarded to my father by many of the workers in my
sample. Vale is a Spanish term from Spain still used in some parts of Mexico to
informally address other men. “Ira Vale.” It is the equivalent as saying “hey man” in the
United States. It can also be used as an expression to affirm or agree, “Sale y Vale!” My
father used the term in both contexts. He most frequently used the expression “Oye Vale”
to address other men. He used the expression with such frequency workers nicknamed
him El Vale.
Parallel to the experience of all the participants in the study, with the exception of
Manuel, I came into the industry through my father. He was the foreman who hired all
the workers; the buffer management. Typically my father would hire workers from
28
informal day labor sites. If he liked how they worked he would offer a permanent
position in his crew. He would exploit workers’ social networks abroad in Mexico and
domestically, to recruit more workers into his crew. Often, workers would call their
relatives or acquaintances abroad in Mexico to arrange a place of employment in my
father’s work crew once they migrated to the United States. This is the reason why many
of my participants are related or from the same neighborhood in Mexico.
SIGNIFICANCE
The aim of the research project is to discover the Mexican experience of
construction workers. Mexican workers have historically been, and continue to be, an
integral part of the U.S. workforce, both as exploited labor in the United States and
abroad as outsourced labor for U.S. multinational corporations. However, despite these
convictions, Mexican migrant workers continue to be excluded from formal membership
into society. They are portrayed by popular media outlets as contributing to worsened
labor-market opportunities, pushing out domestic workers (“taking American jobs”), and
driving down wages.
According to Valenzuela (1995), job competition is the most contentious and
volatile factor about immigration. It is also the most misrepresented by political circles,
both conservative and liberals alike. From the dominant lens, immigration is viewed as a
deficit to society; a misguided terrain used to blame undocumented workers for economic
downturns. Similar to the 1980s “tough on crime” rhetoric, politicians have used the
immigration hot button issue to push forward their political careers and deflect society’s
attention away from the economic inequalities generated by capitalistic processes.
Contrary to conventional discourse, the research demonstrates the informal economy is a
29
complex and integral part of advanced capitalistic economies—not one generated by the
survival needs of the impoverished (Fernandez-Kelly and Garcia 1989; Baneria 1989;
Benton et al. 1989). Thus, it is important to understand the dynamic between migrant
workers, the informal economy, and its interconnectedness to capitalism to gain a better
understanding of the inequalities generated by our economic system rather than reiterate
the dismissive scapegoat xenophobic parlance found in conventional speech.
Most importantly, the project will highlight the voices of the workers who resist
the exploitative processes of the industry. Often, academia is too preoccupied with the
oppression of communities, failing to validate the resiliency of communities in struggle
who do not allow the structure to dictate their lives. In an attempt to deviate from the top
down social justice model which views oppressed communities as victims rather than
resilient communities in struggle, worker narratives will provide the foundation from
which we can begin to understand and address the oppressive situations these
communities are experiencing.
RESEARCH QUESTION
The purpose of this project is to qualitatively analyze the experiences of Mexican
construction workers in the nonunion sector of the drywall/taper trade. My thesis is a two
part inquiry. First I sought to discover how Mexicans continue to be the largest labor
power in the drywall/taper trade in the San Diego County area. Secondly, I sought to
explore some of the experiences of Mexican workers in the trade, specifically analyzing
how Mexicans are exploited and resist the tough conditions of the trade.
30
FINDINGS
There were four major findings in my research. The first answers the domination
of Mexican labor in the drywall/tape trade of the construction industry. I found previous
occupational experience, ease of entry, social networks, active recruitment of Mexican
workers, and limited upward mobility contributes to the strong Mexican presence in the
labor class of the trade. My second finding discovered there is no difference in wages or
conditions of labor associated with documentation status. Both documented and
undocumented workers experienced similar conditions of labor. My third major research
finding dealt with the discipline of workers. Firms practiced an informal punishment and
reward system of labor production. Workers who did not comply with labor demands
were punished through informal layoffs. Conversely, those who complied were
maintained and rewarded with greater work opportunities. The final major finding dealt
with worker resistance. Employees did not allow the hierarchical arrangement of labor to
dictate their employment opportunities. Workers resisted and altered the conditions of
labor through the informal economy, by building pathways to greater economic
opportunities once blocked off in the formal market.
Before I begin to address my research inquiry, in the following section I describe
the organization of employment in the industry. This will lay down a general
understanding of the arrangement of labor in the construction industry, its relationship to
Mexican labor, and how workers are paid.
ARRANGEMENT OF OUTSOURCED LABOR
The organization of labor in the nonunion sector of the construction industry is
fundamentally different from other worksites and industries throughout the country. A
31
large construction project may take a few months to a couple of years to complete.
Typically a general contractor or construction management firm is hired by an
owner/developer to manage the construction process. The general contractor or
construction management firm takes full responsibility to manage the job except for
specified portions of the job that may be omitted from the contract. General contractors
do portions of the job but often subcontract most of the work to specialty trade
contractors, also known as subcontractors. Specialty trade contractors bid on specific
parts of the construction process: painting, drywall/taping, plumbing, and/or heating.
Specialty contractors are not responsible beyond the scope of their trade. During this
process, groups of trade people come and go from the job site as their skills are needed.
This differs from most occupations, where a consistent group of employees work together
over long periods of time. Specialized trade people are at jobsites for smaller portions of
time than it takes to complete the entire construction project. Thus, labor in the
construction field is highly stratified into specialized fields of builders, architects, general
contractors, subcontractors, project managers, and trade workers.
Since construction firms view the sustainment of large numbers of employees on
the payroll as uneconomical, labor is outsourced to highly specialized trades to allow for
speed and efficiency in the production process, maintain low production costs, and
enhance labor flexibility. Under this arrangement companies are always hiring and
laying-off workers, and employees are constantly looking for work. This transient nature
of labor means employees move between companies as work becomes available.
32
Management System of Outsourced Labor
Formal labor is typically arranged in two forms. The first is direct employment
with a management firm or general contractor (see figure 1). The second more common
arrangement of labor is indirect employment by a management firm or general contractor
through a subcontractor, also known as a specialty contractor (see figure 2). Employment
directly by the general contractor provides employees with greater lateral opportunities
into other trades due to the various trades working directly under the general contractor
employment umbrella. Workers find the benefits of lateral trade movement beneficial as
a means to maintain more consistent employment opportunities in a highly unstable
industry. Skills in other trades heightened their marketability when searching for work
elsewhere. On the contrary, workers employed through a specialty contractor are limited
to the drywall/taper trade. Workers are alienated from the possibility of learning other
trades which consequently hinders their marketability into other trades in the construction
industry.
The general contractor or management firm is almost exclusively white and male.
Rarely will people of color make their way into these positions of management. There is
even less of a probability for women to climb to this position of management due to the
male-dominated nature of the industry. Depending on the size of the management firm,
general contractors will typically hire a superintendent to manage and coordinate the onsite construction activities from early development to completion of the construction
project. Superintendent positions, also typically white male positions, manage and
coordinate the construction project from its inception to the end of the project. Thus,
these positions are more stable than specialized work trades because they remain
33
employed during the entire duration of the job process. Superintendents are responsible
for maintaining an open line of communication with subcontractors, foremen, and trade
supervisors to make certain all trades are held to their contracted work schedules. They
facilitate the flow of materials and equipment, and ensure the compliance of the project
with building and safety code regulations. Superintendents typically hire and lay-off
workers as they are needed throughout the construction processes, albeit foremen can
also be awarded these hiring responsibilities.
Subcontractors are specialized construction firms brought into the construction
process to do specific trade duties. In the case of the drywall/taper trade, the owner or
partner of the firm must hold a C-9 license to legally run a drywall/taping firm in the
United States. They bid on potential projects, working closely with architects and project
managers to schedule the work process of the job. Trade supervisors are directly hired by
the subcontractor to perform the bureaucratic work of the firm: office payroll,
employment procedures, manage workers from site to site, transport materials to jobsites,
and maintain employee work schedules. Subcontractors and trade supervisors are
typically white male occupations. At this point there is a slight infiltration of Mexican
workers, although not enough to label it a significant infiltration.
Foremen are on-site managers working alongside the labor class. They are
responsible for the movement of workers and the on-site management of drywall/taping
operations. Although foremen do not earn substantially more than the common worker,
they hold large discretionary authority over them. Foremen assign taping and drywall
operations, which pay differential wages in contracted work known as piecework. In an
attempt to maximize wage earnings, workers find specific taping/drywall operations more
34
desirable than others due to their contracted price to complete the operation. Foremen
also play a key role in the layoff process of the trade. During economic slowdowns
foremen make employment decisions on which employees get laid-off and which
employees will remain working. Foremen are exclusively Mexican. They are the inbetweens, facilitating management between the supervisors and the laboring class.
Foremen are fluent in Spanish and speak English. They are experienced workers who
have years in the trade and represent the extent of upward mobility for the drywall/taper
from the general labor pool.
35
Chains of Outsourcing & Demographics (Figure 1)
General Contractor
(White male)
JOB #1
Job site Superintendant
(White male)
Drywall/Taper Foreman
(Mexican male)
JOB #2
Job site Superintendant
(White male)
Drywall/Taper Foreman
(Mexican male)
Workers
Workers
(Mexican male
workforce)
*Employed Directly by
General contractor
(Mexican male
workforce)
*Employed Directly by
General contractor
36
Outsourcing Labor through a Specialty Contractor (Figure 2)
General Contractor
(White male)
Job Site Superintendant
(White male)
SUBCONTRACTORING FIRM
OWNER OF THE FIRM
(White male)
Trade Supervisors
(White male)
*Formally employed by
subcontracting firm.
Foreman
(Mexican male)
Buffer Management
Informal/formal
*manages work crews directly on job
sites, works alongside workers.
Workers
(Mexican male workforce)
*Employed indirectly by General
contractor
37
Side Work & Small Management Firms
Side work is informal work outside the firm of employment. Side work is found
through years of networking with small general contracting firms. The arrangement of
labor around these small firms is basic. Management and labor is generally performed by
the general contractor and a handful of handymen. These small management firms only
outsource small portions of the work which general contractors and their work crews are
unable to perform. Due to the low volume of job contracts these firms can handle, they
provide sporadic informal employment opportunities for Mexican drywall/tapers. Due to
the less stratified nature of labor, they render higher wage opportunities for specialty
trade workers. This work is generally performed as a second shift after regular work
hours, during the weekends, or during sporadic layoffs. It is generally an under the table
cash opportunity which increases the stability of worker employment in the industry and
acts as a supplemental wage to their typical arrangement of labor with larger firms.
However, it is not uncommon for experienced workers to arrange all their labor around
the side work informal economy. Working as autonomous individuals under an informal
subcontracting entity, these workers find work opportunities directly with homeowners
and general contractors. These opportunities are networked through word of mouth or
through other specialty workers who need a drywall/taper for their own informal business
ventures. Homeowners with home improvement projects, from minor repairs to major
remodeling needs, become great networks for future work. If the work is done to the
satisfaction of the homeowner, they recommend these informal subcontracting entities to
their circle of friends or family members. The homeowner benefits because they save
38
money, and workers benefit because these projects provide the greatest wage opportunity
in the industry.
Payment & Benefits
Construction is traditionally known as a well paying occupation for individuals
entering the job market without a high school diploma. In all but two cases in this study,
workers lacked a high school degree. Participants discussed the good times in
construction as periods of economic boom, large construction projects, and high wages.
However, it is the uncertainties of the trade which drive workers into other occupations.
Wages are highly influenced by the housing market and without notice workers find
themselves without employment. Participants described having to consistently search for
work to maintain steady employment, while working weekends and after regular work
hours was not an uncommon practice to save money for the bad times. Benefits were
nonexistent. In all but two cases the drywall/taping company provided Workers’
Compensation for work-related injuries. Yet, in none of the cases did workers have health
insurance, retirement benefits, and in the case for undocumented workers, they did not
have access to unemployment benefits. It also was the case that many documented
workers could not collect unemployment benefits because they did not have a record of
employment, due to the underground cash economy.
Employment is highly unstable. Workers often settle for less pay in exchange for
stable employment. Salvador, a documented worker with 17 years of experience in the
trade, discusses how he negotiated less pay for more work. Acknowledging the tough
economic times, Salvador asked his employer to adjust his wages to make the company’s
bids more competitive in the market.
39
In the homes we always get paid 20, 22 and in commercial work we get paid 24.
But that is the most we get paid 24, 25, the prices have dropped a bit, before I
would get paid 25, all most all work, commercials, homes, everything. Now it is
less because it has changed, because there was a time when he did not get any
work so I told him to fix the prices. If they pay you less then pay me a little less
then. If they pay you more then pay me more and that is what has been
happening in the houses where he gets paid less he pays me 22 and in the
commercial work he pays me 25.
Pilatos, recently documented with 10 years experience in the trade, contemplates the
importance of maintaining steady work even at the cost of lower pay.
I am comfortable working with him but the problem is the little pay. The good
thing is that he maintains us busy the entire year, 48 hours a week. Unless I get
an offer of about 20 per hour and 40 hours a week, because it is no good for
someone to offer me 18 an hour, and rest me for 3 days and then only work for 3
days. It does not benefit me.
Wages typically took on two forms: hourly work or contracted work, also known as
piecework. In all cases workers desired an hourly wage over piecework. Participants
argued all labor was never fully paid by piecework. Employers notoriously added to their
list of duties not listed in the contracted labor agreement and workers often found
themselves working into the night with halogen lights just to make a decent wage.
Eduardo discusses the added pressures of working by piecework.
Well, a lot of times we apply the pressure on ourselves because if they are paying
you cheap you work late to finish the job, because they are not paying you much
and you do not want to drive to work so many days when you are not earning
what you should be. You are wasting time driving there and back and you do not
advance the job. Sometimes you prefer to work late to finish the job and leave to
another. So like I say sometimes we apply pressure upon ourselves. The
employers apply pressure depending how fast they want the job and like I said
there are two: one is when they pay cheap and they tell you I want this job by this
day but you have to work late to finish the job quickly. They apply pressure on
you and you apply more pressure on yourself.
40
Eduardo illustrates the dual nature of piecework: pressure applied by the employer to
finish the construction project quickly and self-imposed pressure, in an effort to make a
decent wage workers pressure themselves to quickly complete a poorly paid project. The
dual nature of piecework is what drives workers to work long hours into the night and
weekends.
The industry’s hourly wages for the participants varied dramatically. The lowest
wage amongst the participants was $15 per hour and the highest wage $25 per hour. In all
cases workers were never compensated overtime pay even though they regularly worked
over 40 hour weeks and were never paid time-and-a-half for performing work on the
weekends. Piecework also varied dramatically throughout the various sectors of the
industry. Mass production work was generally paid less: tract homes or apartment
complexes. Residential custom homes paid more, while commercial projects paid the
best, albeit hourly pay was the common wage practice of commercial work.
Regardless of these general trends nothing is certain in the industry. All
participants spoke of the dire economic times. Wages have been at their lowest scales
since they first entered the trade. The reality is wages have been dropping in the last three
decades. Pay scales are not adjusted for the cost of living. More alarming is the
revolutionary innovations invested on the production of drywall/taping tools. Work can
be performed two to three times faster compared to 30 years ago, yet wages fail to keep
up with production. Taping/drywall tool firms such as AMES and AMS exist solely to
profit on the rental and innovation of taping and drywall equipment. They are constantly
searching for ways to innovate and alter tools to increase production and efficiency in the
drywall/taper trade. These drywall/taping equipment firms rent a set of taping tools from
41
$350 to $425 a week. Drywall/taping firms are enticed to rent, rather than buy, taping
tools because they are expensive to maintain. Rental companies maintain and replace
damaged tools, while offering the most advanced equipment in the market at no
additional fees. Firms are also attracted to this arrangement because rental fees are tax
deductable.
AMERICANS KNOW HOW TO WORK, BUT THEY ARE SLOW
My first major finding delves into the dominance of Mexicans in the drywall/taper
trade of the construction industry. Since firms cannot send construction work abroad in
search for lower wages, companies outsource labor domestically to a cheap laboring class
of Mexican workers. I found Mexicans are segmented racially from higher-paid positions
and subjugated into the laboring class of the construction industry. Mexican workers are
met with promotional ceilings which prevent movement into higher paid managerial
positions in the industry. It is this racial division of labor from higher paid positions
which creates a colonial system of labor. As colonized labor, Mexicans are subjugated
and dependent on the structure of the industry. This is not a new phenomena; the free
movement of Mexican labor has historically faced a revolving door immigration policy.
Migration is restricted and eased as labor demands rise and fall in the United States.
Large-scale migration to the United States began in the 1900s when the U.S.financed railroads into the interior of Mexico (Durand, Massey, & Zenteno 2001). U.S.
labor recruiters would journey into the interior areas of Mexico in search for sources of
labor (Durand et al. 2001). In 1929, the great depression lent itself to limited migration
and massive deportations (Acuña 2004). Thirteen years later, the shortage of agricultural
workers paved the way for the Bracero Program in 1942, arranging for the temporary
42
importation of Mexican contracted labor into the United States (Acuña 2004). U.S.
immigration policy has historically been used to curb or support migration patterns for
the purpose of controlling Mexican labor. The legacy of Mexican migrant labor
channeled to manual intensive jobs creates a colonial system of labor limiting Mexicans’
degree of freedom. In the following section I will illustrate how Mexicans’ work
histories, ease of entry, social networks, active Mexican recruitment, and limited mobility
contribute to the subjugation of Mexican labor to the bottom echelons of the industry as a
colonized labor force in the construction industry.
Work Histories
Seven of the nine participants previously worked in the agricultural sector of the
economy. The majority of the participants previously worked as field workers, harvesting
crops or performing informal day labor work in landscaping. These were sectors of the
economy dominated by an undocumented migrant labor force. Workers described the
agricultural field comparably to the drywall/taper trade as having to adhere to stricter
work schedules, harsher working conditions, low wages, and nonexistent promotion
opportunities. The drywall/taper trade for these individuals was a transition toward
greater wage opportunities and autonomy from the rigors of field work. Benny, an
undocumented worker with 13 years experience in the trade, describes the harsh working
conditions in the agricultural fields in comparison to the drywall/taper trade as
incomparable. Benny relishes upon the fact he does not have to work under the extreme
weather conditions of the beating sun or rain now as a drywall/taper working indoors.
Construction is always hard but compared to the field it is not comparable, it is
not the same to be outdoors scraping or like I tell you, if it is raining you are
working with wet feet or with the sun hitting you on your back the entire time. It
43
is not comparable, it is always tougher, it is always better to work in this job than
be in the field. In the field one really suffers. It really depends on the climate if it
is really hot then the heat is beating on you, if it is raining it is the same, now the
cold let’s not even go there. From here [drywall/taper] I have the opportunity that
it is indoors.
One of the most pertinent aspects of colonial labor is the concentration of minorities in
the least desirable jobs through informal practices (Barrera 1979). Historically, Mexican
migrants have and continue to be relegated into the most undesirable low-skilled
occupations. While the construction industry provides the ability to move into more
desirable conditions, the industry continues the legacy of Mexican labor repression by
maintaining workers in laboring class occupations, as will be demonstrated in the
forthcoming sections.
Limited Opportunities
All participants spoke about the limited promotion opportunities working in the
agricultural fields. Interviewees expressed the drywall/taper trade as the best opportunity
available to them, especially if they were undocumented. Ignacio is an undocumented
foreman in the drywall/taper trade. When asked about how he came to work in the
drywall/taper trade he described searching for a career that gave him greater wage
opportunities; opportunities not offered in his previous place of employment as an
informal day labor.
Well, I started more than anything in search of a job that was of more use for me,
you understand. What I worked in before, I did not like it. It appeared to me,
what I earned, that I would always remain there. So I thought if I got another job,
like your dad invited me to work, if I got the job there, there are more
possibilities that I may earn more money.
44
Ignacio was invited to work in the drywall/taper trade by my father who worked in the
industry for 40 years. At the time Ignacio was performing day labor work. After working
for my father for the day Ignacio continued in the trade. He saw promotion opportunities
not offered in day labor work. Further into the interview, Ignacio discusses the economic
opportunities the trade has opened for him. He is currently a foreman coordinating all the
taping operations for his employer. But Ignacio also discusses the grave limitations
within the trade which prevent him from moving beyond his foreman position.
At the most you will achieve like me, a foreman only, but from there on I do not
see more doors because where can I go. To be a super [superintendent] I can’t, I
do not think I can. You need to be fluent in English you need to know how to
start the job and how to finish it. Have the communication with the owner who
rents the offices and that seems harder for me. I think to where I can go and it
seems this is the end for me, it is the most. To be an owner of a company, can
you imagine, a lot of work is needed and money, and from where.
These were the realities for all workers in the trade, documented or undocumented.
Mexican employees found it difficult to navigate beyond the foreman position due to the
cultural and social capital at their disposal. Documented or undocumented, the Mexican
drywall/taper workforce typically is made up of marginal cultural citizens who migrated
to the United States during their early adolescent years. They did not acquire formal
education in the United States and never had the opportunity to develop the social
networks needed to expand into other career paths at the disposal of white workers. As an
undocumented worker, Ignacio argued the drywall/taper trade is the best opportunity at
his disposal in the U.S. labor market due to his citizenship standing.
As specialty tradesmen, workers are delegated only to specific areas of the
construction process. This alienation of the production process hinders workers’
45
knowledge of the entire construction processes. Management must be knowledgeable in
these areas. Typically, superintendants have formal schooling to go along with their
experience in the trade, such as an A.A. degree in construction management. But many
are employed in these positions with no formal schooling. They acquire supervisory
positions through years of experience working as general contractors for smaller firms.
As experienced individuals they understand the entire production process from inception
to its completion. Like Ignacio, specialty workers are restricted to the drywall/taping
portion of the industry. Under this arrangement of labor, drywall/tapers will never attain
the experience necessary to acquire knowledge of the construction process in its entirety.
The alienation of workers into specialized fields builds efficiency and specialization in
the production process, but hinders the employees’ ability to network into other fields and
learn new trades to gain the experience necessary to move up the hierarchy of
management beyond foreman. The concentration of Mexican low-skilled labor into the
laboring class of the industry is a manifestation of the continued colonial project. To
maintain Mexican labor controlled and restricted to the labor-intensive sectors of the
labor market.
Ease of Entry
The informal employment of workers allows for employees to enter and exit the
industry with ease. Employment is fluid and highly flexible. Unlike union workers who
need to pass an apprenticeship program to demonstrate competence in the trade,
nonunion workers demonstrate their value through the work they perform. Wages are
typically negotiated in hourly work, based on how well and efficient employees perform
the work. Piecework operates differently—wages are fixed and all work is priced.
46
Drywall/taping operations are divided according to expertise level. The most skillful
operations are left to the most experienced workers. These are also the highest paid
operations. Generally, foremen divide and price the various operations on a price sheet.
But, on occasion, work is not divided according to operational duties. Prices are set
according to job project or housing unit. Thus, workers will agree upon a division of
labor and wage amongst themselves.
Employment does not require documentation. It is not uncommon for employers
to know which employees are undocumented. It is not a major concern for the
construction firm. They are protected by the law. In 1986, the immigration reform
established sanctions against the hire of undocumented workers by employers, yet the
reform failed to address employers’ responsibility to verify documents presented by
potential candidates seeking employment. Without the responsibility of a verification
process, firms are awarded immunity from sanctions against hiring undocumented
workers. This opens the door for the unhindered employment of undocumented workers
by firms while imposing larger expenses and liabilities on undocumented workers (De
Genova 2005). Firms reap the benefits of large labor pools while workers run all the
risks. They remain an unprotected labor force without employment and health benefits,
and lack the valid driver licenses to perform everyday construction responsibilities as
simple as driving to and from various jobsites. Workers run the risk of deportation as they
drive to and from work on a day-to-day basis.
The unhindered ease of entry funnels Mexican low-skill labor into labor-intensive
occupations in the drywall/taper trade. The construction industry is the only opportunity
away from the harsh conditions of the agricultural field and day labor work. Yet,
47
Mexicans continue to be sealed into the laboring class of the industry, falling victim to
similar situations in which they found themselves in the agricultural sector or informal
economy of day labor work. As a flexible cheap labor force, comparably to white
workers and other racial minorities, Mexican labor is limited the freedom to travel into
other occupational opportunities. As construction labor they experience slight privileges
not offered in previous occupations where the conditions of work have changed, such as
working indoors and opportunities for higher wage. But the conditions of employment
remain—no employment benefits, job insecurity, and dangerous working conditions.
In the following section I will elaborate on “the best fit” paradigm previously
introduced as work suitable for Mexicans, a tenet of the colonial analogy of work which
concentrates Mexicans in the least desirable jobs.
The Best Fit
Despite the difficulties some participants had explaining the dominance of
Mexican labor in the trade, workers had less trouble articulating how Mexican labor fit
into the tough nature of the trade. Workers discussed the strong Mexican work ethic:
harder workers, the love of work, more efficient, and cheaper (as compared to other
race/ethnicities, specifically whites). Two participants even drew upon black stereotypes,
arguing that blacks are not fit for the trade due to their lazy nature.
While these stereotypes did not draw Mexicans into the field, it carves out a niche
for Mexicans in the industry. My first interactions with employers were, at best,
awkward. These interactions provided insight into the preconceived notions held by
employers about the Mexican community. Employers slowed their speech or
communicated in broken Spanish during initial interactions. I recall a group of Japanese
48
investors who declared they only hire Mexican workers. They spoke highly of the
Mexican work ethic. On two separate occasions I recall white homeowners arguing my
coworkers were undeserving of higher wages due to their undocumented status; it was
simply too much money for those people. Not all my coworkers were undocumented but
the stereotype was pervasive. The dominant view was Mexican labor is harder working,
undocumented, undeserving, and uneducated. It is this perception of vulnerability and
hard work which construes Mexican labor as the quintessential fit for the trade.
Similarly, workers championed their hard work ethnic as a better fit to the nature
of the work, as compared to other communities. Workers reiterated the hegemonic view
of their labor power. Pilatos equally taps into the desirability of Mexican workers in the
drywall/taper trade when asked if employers actively seek Mexicans workers:
I believe so because we like the work, it is a good job. If they pay well we do a
good job also. The majority of Americans know how to do the work but all they
have going for them is that they are Americans and in reality they do not know
how to do the work, like we do.
Pilatos continues to explain the advantages of hiring Mexican employees over white
employees.
First of all the Mexican will do the work for cheaper… because as a Mexican we
charge less than a white person. If a Mexican charges, for example, twenty
dollars an American will charge forty dollars. Another advantage is that a
Mexican will finish the job faster than an American… because we are harder
working. Americans know how to work, but they are slow. Some do not even
know how to work because they are American.
Pilatos slides between two signifiers of work, “trabajo”. First he describes work in its
more common usage to describe the practice of work, the acquired skill of
49
drywall/taping. The second use of the word work is used to describe it in the context of
labor. How fast and efficient one can perform work regardless of occupation. Under this
context, like many of the workers in my study, Mexican work is described as a cultural
phenomenon stemming from the foundations of an innate work ethic; a work ethic which
validates lower pay, limits free movement of Mexican labor in the trade, and concentrates
their efforts into a cheap labor working class.
Social Networks
Beside the ease of entry into the field, Mexican drywall/tapers hold strong social
networks in the trade, which draw them to the occupation. This is contrary to white
workers, who are leaving the harsh unstable working conditions of the trade into more
stable occupations. Mexican workers use their strong social networks in the trade to
secure work opportunities before they migrate to the United States. Generally, groups of
workers known as cuadrillas, or work crews, are assigned to a jobsite or project. These
cuadrillas are typically made up of relatives or acquaintances networked domestically or
abroad in Mexico. The work crews are typically headed by a foreman (although
sometimes are not) who recruits relatives and acquaintances from his work crew or own
social network. Workers are taught the trade informally through their fellow coworkers.
Once workers go through the informal apprentice program they branch out on their own
in search for higher-wage probabilities, drawing in other relatives or acquaintances into
the trade. It is not uncommon for firms to hire the foreman who brings along the entire
work crew to the construction project; or the firm informally hires a work crew without
the foreman. The hire of entire work crews, although particular to contracted work, also
can be particular to hourly projects. This allows for ease of management and control of
50
labor. Firms save money by hiring established work crews. These crews have established
mediums of communication with a point person or leader to communicate with
management. There is also an established division of labor decided amongst the crew.
They take the responsibility of teaching apprentice workers coming into the crew and, as
the company expands, the cuadrillas can become relay points for firms to recruit more
workers. This increases the flexibility of labor, increases efficiency in production, and
saves the firm money on management. Management simply gives a contracted price on a
house, tract home, or project. Workers work out the details of the division of labor, share
wages amongst themselves, and manage each other during the process with little to no
supervision.
Rafael, a documented worker with 36 years of experience in the trade, explains
why there is a disproportionate number of Mexicans in the trade:
The Latinos, what happens is that you get out all these people that were trained
and left and you have some Latinos that are still in there, they just, you do not
need an education, you don’t need to speak English, [and] you got the same guy
that are teaching you there which for the most part they are the ones that are
going to teach you, it is easier, and for a Caucasian to get in there they do not
have the connections anymore. Some get in because there are some there [some
whites present in the field] but not as many, so I figure that is why there is more
Latino construction workers. And [whites leave due to] the conditions, because if
you are going to go and make 10 dollars an hour with no air conditioning where
it is super hot and no heater when it is super cold, breathing all that dust and
everything else. You get a job in any store it is a lot nicer, your conditions are
nicer, you speak the language and especially if you got a little bit of an education
you figure you know what, I will just make this kind of money and be happy, and
you got a more steady job.
Rafael describes the drop in white worker social networks in the trade, which prevents
them from having a continue flow of labor. Tired of the harsh conditions and instability
of work, whites use their social and cultural networks to find more steady occupations
51
outside the construction industry. This happens even when the new arrangement results in
lower pay. Workers will often exchange a lower wage over the unstable working
conditions of the construction industry.
Common racialized experiences such as an undocumented workforce, migrated
labor, and Mexican nationals represent a colonial model that is mitigated abroad through
international corporations and in the United States as a low skilled migrant workforce.
This workforce is channeled into the most labor-intensive occupations and movement
from one labor intensive occupation to the next is eased through these informal practices,
as found in my research: work histories, ease of entry, limited opportunities, racist
discourse (as the “best fit”), and social networks, Mexican workers continue to be
classified into “suitable” occupations, the least-desirable jobs of the industry—a colonial
legacy using Mexican workers as labor reserve pools to increase elasticity, maintain
wages low, and use unemployed workers to leverage bargaining and control of the labor
force. This use of control pits Mexican labor upon itself where the arrangement of
colonial employment is never questioned; rather the individual situations of workers and
their attempts at survival and resistance are blamed for flexible wages.
THE ONLY THING ABOUT PAPERS IS THAT I CAN GO TO MEXICO
My second major finding discovered how documentation affects workers’
experiences in the trade. Unique to this research is the combination of both documented
and undocumented Mexican drywall/tapers in the study. I found no difference in the
wages of construction workers and conditions of work attached to citizenship status.
Repeatedly throughout the research, individuals spoke about earnings based on the value
of their work. Although hegemonic discourse viewed the occupation as dead-end jobs,
52
workers took pride in their work and saw its value in society. When asked about conflicts
in the job, Salvador (documented with 17 years in the trade) discussed the importance of
knowing the value of your work.
I have never argued, just when they do not pay well I just work 2 or 3 weeks and
look elsewhere. You have to look for work where you feel you are being paid
what your work is worth because you cannot give away your work. If you are not
being paid what you believe your work is worth because like the tape, it may
appear to be work that is insignificant but they want it done well, so they want
professional work done. So it has it time, if you have time working at a job you
know how to do a good job thus they have to pay you what it is worth. That is
what I believe.
Salvador argued the drywall/taper trade has its grace and not anyone can perform the
work without training. Workers repeatedly resisted the dominant notions of the
insignificant nature of the work. Workers argued firms demanded professional work.
Thus, they demanded their wages reflect these expectations.
Due to the informal apprenticeship training in the trade, workers did not have
certifications validating their expertise. Firms did not require resumes, application forms,
or interviews to screen potential employees. An employee’s value was based on the work
he performed. Manuel, recently documented with 20 years experience in the trade,
explains how his work allows him to earn well.
I have always tried to do things better and always be in a better situation, have a
better job. If there are a lot of companies, well let’s find the best one because I
like to earn money. I do not like to earn little money; I like to earn a lot of
money. But my work makes me earn that money. It is not that I want to just earn
money and do a shitty job, no, because I do good work that is why I earn good
money.
53
Manuel continues to discuss how documentation does not entitle employees to higher
wages or better opportunities in the trade.
The only thing about the papers is that I can go to Mexico… That is the only
thing. With papers I can enter the union [membership into unionized construction
work] and do not risk that immigration pulls me over. That I am legal now, that is
one of the principal things to be in this country you have to be legal.
Manuel further supports his statements by providing an example of a fellow coworker
who got into an argument with this employer over his wage scale, which cost him his job.
The coworker felt entitled to greater pay founded on his recent legal documentation
status.
He got his papers and thought he was entitled to more money just because he had
papers. But if he starts to think about the work that he offers, it is not worth what
he is asking for. He needs to demonstrate it with his work, he cannot say I earn
this much, he needs to demonstrate it first with his work.
Documentation status did not determine different work conditions or a difference in
wage. Three of my participants are recently documented who have held residential
documentation status for at least two years while working in the trade. The greater part of
their drywall/taper experience was undocumented, yet reported no significant change in
wages, benefits (except having the ability to file unemployment or taxes), or change in
working conditions since they received legal documentation status. The highest paid
worker in my sample was documented worker Salvador, who claimed to earn $24 to $25
an hour. Ignacio, an undocumented drywall/taper who held the highest position of
management in my sample (as a foreman) earning $20 an hour. The lowest paid
54
individual was Pilatos, a recently documented worker who earned $15 an hour but held
the steadiest employment out of all nine participants.
While wage and working conditions remained similar for both documented and
undocumented workers, disparities in work experiences (when considering
documentation status), rose in tangential aspects of the construction industry. Workers
argued transportation was the largest issue. Concerns of driving to and from work
surfaced throughout workers’ narratives. The fear of the pull-over from police or U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials (ICE) was pervasive. San Diego Police
are known to notoriously profile and detain suspected undocumented individuals for ICE
to deport. Workers are conscious of the disdain with which officials view Latinas/os in
the San Diego area, specifically targeting Latina/o neighborhoods: setting up checkpoints,
formulating city ordinances, and housing ICE officials in city police departments.
Workers also discussed the occasional loss of employment opportunities for
projects which lie near the San Ysidro border or across interstate border checkpoints in
San Clemente, Temecula, or Los Angeles. Workers would not work near or cross the
interstate border checkpoints, fearing deportation.
Three cases expressed unemployment as a barrier to union membership. Although
I have known cases when undocumented individuals have found their way into unions
through the identities of documented relatives or friends, these cases are extremely rare.
Participants also voiced the lack of tax-based benefits such as Unemployment or Social
Security. The lack of these securities was particularly debilitating for the futures of these
workers. One participant spoke about his investment abroad in Mexico, sending money to
build a future home for retirement because he saw no future for him in this country.
55
Undocumented workers also had to be more efficient, as they did not have the
securities of unemployment. Many documented workers found themselves in similar
predicaments. Work is typically paid under the table in cash. Both documented and
undocumented workers commonly experienced the lack of unemployment securities due
to informal practices.
MY FATHER LAID ME OFF FOR TWO WEEKS
The most prevalent theme throughout my project is my third major finding, which
is how employers use the unemployed to leverage bargaining and control of the labor
force. Barrera (1979) introduces this practice as a tenet of the colonial model. The use of
minorities as a reserve labor force enhances labor elasticity. This practice was primarily
manifested through descanso, described by workers as informal layoffs. Although
descanso is a leveraging tool used differently than described by Barrera, the concept
remains the same. Barrera describes the creation of large unemployed pools used as
leverage for bargaining wages and controlling workers. Descanso is the threat of
unemployment to leverage direct authority and control over the workforce, due to the
transient and unregulated nature of employment as a revolving door employment
practice. Workers are consistently looking for work, often straddling both formal and
informal employment, and juggling various drywall/taping jobs to maintain stable
employment. Drywall/tapers come and leave firms with ease. It is uncommon for firms to
fire workers. More common is the phase-out of employment through informal layoffs.
This maintains open channels of future employment when employers need employees.
Descanso is unstructured and implemented at the discretion of the supervisor. Its literal
56
translation is rest. Participants spoke how, “me descansaron”; they rested me. Rafael
discusses the discretionary implementation of descanso.
Everyone does it differently, when I was in management I keep the guy that were
always there for me. That I felt I owed them for being there for me. But there are
people that do it out of like, because he is related because he bought me this, they
do not care about the company they are in charge they care more about
themselves. So everyone has different reasons they will keep someone, because
they are a lot of fun, his work is not that great and they may get rid of someone
because they just don’t like him even if he did good work. So it varies and you do
not have to have a reason. It slows down and a guy complains say hey it is slow
we dropped this much we got this many people. So there is nothing they can do
really, if they say well I have been with you longer, you know I had to cut some
people and you were one of them because you are not going to put on any work
ethics anything that draws a flag where they can come after you. You are going
to talk more about I got this guys doing it you were working over here and that is
the place where I am cutting everybody off.
Descanso can be used as a social networking tool to keep good company, the most charismatic, or
perhaps maintain friends and relatives employed. Rafael utilized the practice as a reward system
for his employees, an informal merit system of employment. To Rafael it was about pushing the
company forward. By keeping those whom he felt were the best workers, he covertly cleaned
house as work slowed and kept only the harder-working individuals.
Most commonly descanso is used to directly punish workers who did not comply with
management. Ignacio describes how descanso is used to discipline workers.
Right now it’s different, before there was a different foreman and he did make us
work [on Saturdays] and if you did not work he would rest you. He was
Mexican… He would tell you are going to work. No but I can’t. Ok. He would
leave it as is, and the next day you would not go to work. He would rest you two
days and then would call you to work, if he felt like it… it was like he was
punishing you so the next time he told you to work you had to do it because it
was not about whether you wanted to, but you were obligated to.
57
Due to the transient nature of work, descanso is the strongest disciplinary action
used against employees. The instability of the trade and lack of safety nets available
during layoffs make descanso an effective disciplinary practice. To both the documented
and undocumented workers, unemployment means poverty and struggle. Descansos
unpredictable nature is an eminent threat for all employees, regardless of their seniority
or experience. Even though these strategies seem patently unfair, they are difficult to
prove due to their neutral informal appearance.
Its implications do not end at the jobsite. Descanso also can be implemented
under the most mundane circumstances which have no association with situations at the
place of work. On many occasions my father laid me off due to our personal quarrels
outside the workplace. Our relationship has always been fractured. He would discipline
my defiant question of his fatherly authority through descanso. I was reliant on his trade
networks for employment. My father was the buffer management; he connected me to
employment opportunities, through connections he had established formally and
informally throughout his 40-year career in the field. Although this was not a unique case
of father and son relationship in the construction sector, my father would use descanso in
similar circumstances to discipline his workers.
A salient example occurred in 2005 when my father, for the duration of two years,
ventured into one of his many entrepreneurial endeavors. He entered the agricultural field
with the mindset of planting and harvesting cactus, a staple of many Mexican dishes. He
leased a two-acre lot in the town of Valley Center, San Diego, about 20 miles from our
home in Escondido. His plan was to supplement his income from this business endeavor
and in the near future transition out of the construction industry. Many of the workers
58
from his crew came to the construction field from agricultural backgrounds. Therefore,
during sporadic layoffs in the construction industry, he began using many of the workers
from his crew to build nurseries, tend to the cactus, and harvest. Workers did not take
well to this new arrangement. Many left the agricultural fields to leave the harsh
conditions of field work and were now facing similar conditions. There were a few
workers who would regularly refuse the agricultural work and would take the day off if
there was no work in construction. My father, angered by their defiance, would use
descanso to lay off insubordinate workers from employment opportunities in
construction. He would, in turn, reward those workers who complied with the new
arrangement of employment.
The personal/social connection between management and workers awards
supervisors an added layer of discretionary authority over their employees beyond the
workplace through the use of descanso. Under these circumstances, employees are under
the lens at all points of everyday life presenting their working selves to appease
management and maintain open channels of employment. On many occasions I would
resist arguments with my father in an attempt to maintain open opportunities of
employment. It is this powerful leverage of descanso which controls the labor force. It is
this colonial relationship between the laboring class and the arrangement of labor which
keeps workers disciplined and controlled, while awarding managerial agents powerful
authority over its workers through the control of labor.
RESISTING THE STRUCTURE
My final major finding discovers how employees maintain employment
opportunities by deploying strategies and building resistance to the tough economic
59
conditions and practices of the industry. Workers would engage in legal and extralegal
means to retain employment opportunities, often straddling both formal and informal
work opportunities to push their families forward and survive. Survival was a strong
theme throughout the project, especially given the harsh economic times. Workers
complained wages are at an all-time low; the worst recession they have ever experienced
in the industry. For undocumented workers, survival was a daily occurrence. As an illegal
workforce they found their presence a daily struggle to push their families forward.
Undocumented workers discussed the construction industry as the best opportunity for
them. Thus, must worker harder to maintain employment opportunities open.
The various manifestations of resistance ranged from filing formal grievances to
complete sabotage. Workers did not simply allow the structure to dictate their
opportunities. In two cases undocumented workers filed formal grievances to the Labor
Commission Board on the grounds of nonpayment. Manuel discusses, one of those cases
presented in my study, why he believes the firm refused to pay him.
They did not want to pay me and because he knew that I did not have papers. I
think that is where he based himself from that he was not going to pay me… and
more than anything because they were paying me cash I was not on the payroll.
Despite Manuel’s undocumented status, he filed a complaint to the Labor Commission
Board. The board placed a hold on the company’s license. Once the company received
the hold they threatened Manuel to lift the grievance. Yet Manuel did not bend. He used
the hold as leverage to receive immediate payment from the firm.
They called me to tell me if I lifted the order they will pay me that same day and
since I started to think about all that, I did not want it to come back to me
[karma]. I needed money that was what was on my mind, money, money [to] pay
60
the mortgage. More than anything to pay the mortgage, I had to pay it. I told
them, I stood my ground, if you folks come and hand me my check right now I
will lift the order. But, you will lift it? If you do not want to believe me then go
to hell, that is what I told them.
Against the counsel of the Labor Commission, Manuel decided to lift the grievance
because he needed the money. His house payment was late and his wife was expecting. If
he had gone through the grievance, he would have received more money and
compensation for the unpaid weekend wages and overtime pay; however due to the
pressing need of quick money, Manuel used the hold as a powerful leverage to receive
immediate compensation for his labor, resisting the repressive condition of nonpayment,
from a firm which thought they could take advantage of an undocumented worker.
Side work
Workers utilize the informality of side work as a means to stabilize employment
through autonomous work opportunities. Side work is independent work from the formal
market, typically informal work opportunities through years of networking. The side
work opportunities award workers greater control in the negotiation of wages. These
workers act as informal contractors working directly with management firms or
homeowners. Side work benefits small firms which are reliant on informal employment
arrangements. But, it also provides workers greater autonomy juxtaposed to formal
arrangements of labor. Workers act as independent contractors.
Rafael talks about the need to straddle both union and nonunion work to maintain
steady employment. Union workers are not permitted to perform nonunion work even if
the union does not have work. Union workers who perform work in the nonunion sector,
if caught, are fined and often released from the union. Despite these regulations, workers
61
find ways to straddle both realms. By working in the informal cash economy of the
nonunion sector, Rafael can take advantage of unemployment benefits from the formal
union sector of work as a means to supplement his wages.
Workers also use the side work informal economy to transition into preferable
employment arrangements. If current firms do not pay well, employees will look for
work through side work to transition into more favorable positions through lateral
movement in the trade.
A large proportion of drywall/tapers utilize informal side work as their sole
method for generating income. These workers operate as informal contractors without the
C-9 license classification, which is required to legally perform the trade. Workers find
loopholes in the legal system to accommodate their employment needs. According to the
State Contractors Licensing Board, workers can legally perform construction work as
long as the project is less than a total of $500. Many informal companies do small
construction projects or invoice by the hour to bypass the legal payment regulations.
Tony, undocumented with 14 years experience in the trade, is registered with the city of
San Marcos as a business owner operating an independent contracting drywall/taping
firm. He does not hold a C-9 license. His operation is legal but also illegal. The $500
limit is not intended for an entrepreneurial business. Regardless, Tony uses the informal
economy to better his employment and wage opportunities. He discusses how he runs his
informal business using a 1099 tax form.
For [jobs] over $500 I do it by the hour. It is better by the hour. For example, you
go to a job and they ask how much do you charge. You cannot tell them I cannot
do a job for more than $500 by contract, no. You tell them by the hours… By the
hour it is not a problem.
62
Tony is self-employed, working directly with general contractors and homeowners. These
individuals file taxes for Tony under the 1099 tax form (under miscellaneous
expenditures). Tony files taxes at the end of the year on his independent business. He
keeps ledgers, and receipts of his business expenses. General contractors and
homeowners are aware of Tony’s independent ventures as an undocumented and
unlicensed drywall/taping firm, yet are drawn by his rates which are substantially lower
than formal drywall/taping firms in the industry. Much like Tony, many workers use the
informalization of the trade as an opportunity to build successful informal businesses in
the construction industry.
Cutting Corners
Cutting corners in the production process typically takes place when workers are
paid by piecework. Workers deliberately omit operations in the construction process in an
effort to generate more income and increase production. Rafael discusses how employees
cut corners.
I talk about cutting corners it is like; ok we are going to do a heavy hand
texture. We are just going to tape it, run the box on it, cross it, and texture
it. Nobody will ever see it, well yeah. That is cutting corners because now
you already cut three or four steps there and that is what I am talking
about cutting corners… that is cutting corners and that happens a lot and it
is trying to make more money, more money.
Drywallers under a piecework wage contract are paid by the sheet of drywall installed. I
have witnessed drywallers destroy sheets of drywall, claiming instead that they hung the
drywall. This increases their piecework wage.
Employees also steal at various levels in order to supplement their wage. Workers
generally use the materials for side work purposes, saving money on material for
63
informal work opportunities. The theft of equipment and materials is rampant, many
times not from employees but outside individuals interested in selling construction
materials in the underground economy. Jobsites regularly hire security companies to
supervise after regular working hours. The level of theft from employees’ could cost the
company thousands of dollars, and ranges from stealing pallets of compound joint boxes,
to the steal of drywall sheets and tools, to the more common theft of two or three boxes
of compound joint material for small side projects. The theft is not always in defiance to
the firm; it is often used to generate wages in the informal sector of side work.
The use of company tools for side work is also widely pervasive. The rental of
tools is exceptionally expensive. Workers who straddle informal and formal employment
opportunities use the rental tools from their formal place of work to complete informal
jobs. Employers typically ask for the return of tools after a job is completed. However,
workers often delay the delivery of tools, a couple days to a week, in an effort to
complete side jobs on the company’s dime.
Sabotage
Resistance can lead to incidents of deliberate sabotage by disgruntled workers. I
have witnessed a drywaller hurl oil on newly hung drywall sheets on the interior walls.
The worker felt he was unfairly paid. When asked about the incident, he commented, “I
did the work. I did not get paid for it so I have the right to destroy it.” The drywall acts
like a sponge soaking up all the oil. The oil prevents the taping compound mixture from
bonding with the drywall. The firm had to completely demolish the drywall in the house
and reinstall all the drywall.
64
Workers have also sabotaged worksites by filing informal work practices to
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the state licensing board.
Due to the extralegal nature of the construction industry grievances to OSHA have
collateral effects upon informal independent contractors and other subcontracting
companies which have no connection to the disgruntled workers grievance. When OSHA
is alerted of a violation they conduct thorough investigations of all trades and conditions
in the workplace affecting third parties associated with the jobsite.
DISCUSSION
Since the drywall/taper trade cannot be sent abroad when production costs rise,
the indispensability of these jobs opens new economic opportunities for Mexican workers
transforming the inexorable forces of globalization as a resource to advance their own
interests. The strong Mexican foothold in the trade has generated networking
opportunities, guiding new arrivals and settled Mexicans into the trade through kin and
friendship ties. Similar to network migration patterns described by Portes and Rumbaut
(2006), established Mexicans in the drywall/taper trade act as key players in the
recruitment of kin and friends abroad. These ethnic concentrations in the field secure
employment opportunities for migrants domestically and abroad in Mexico. Although,
unlike Portes and Rumbaut’s research (2006) on migration networks, the constructionbased networks into the trade are not ethnic enclaves. These social networks are not a
way station into mainstream society; instead, they are pluralistic mechanism to maintain
cultural resources and identity. Workers band together not to assimilate, but to survive,
thus when workers learn to speak English they do not learn the language to become
American and assimilate, but as a strategy to acquire more work. Workers felt isolated
65
from this country, in particular undocumented workers who were under the constant
threat of deportation. Resembling Ignacio’s story, workers were building futures in
Mexico, but were tied to the country through work and family (as their children were
citizens of this country). When asked when he plans to retire from this line of work,
Ignacio explains he is building a home in Mexico. He plans to return someday but is tied
to the United States by his child’s future.
Yes, in the meantime I have a plan to how to resolve this [retirement situation] in
a couple of years, perhaps because I also do not want to take my son with me
right now. Apart from the situation that Mexico is in, it is tough but I also do not
want to take my sons opportunities because he is a citizen here. I do not want to
take his opportunity of getting a good job here, to study and get a good job. I
want to give him what I can until I am able to, once he is old give him the most I
can and it will be his decision. As long as I can help him I will be here for him. It
is one of the things more than anything, the family that also maintains us here.
Workers did not come to assimilate into mainstream society, but instead, to build better
futures. The work crews were very much Mexican in nature, even when it came down to
the food we packed for lunch. Workers would bring small gas stoves to heat our
traditional dishes and tortillas. Spanish music played throughout the jobsites. These
networks maintained their identity.
On the contrary, white workers’ networks drew them away from the laboring
class of the trade into managerial positions in the industry. Furthermore, these networks
transcended beyond the construction field into other career paths for whites, generating
more stable employment opportunities away from the harsh conditions of the industry. It
was the lack of white capital which hindered Mexican entry into managerial positions
beyond the foreman position.
66
Despite the limited opportunities, Mexican workers faced little resistance of entry.
It is this networking conundrum which allows for ease of entry, yet limits their upward
mobility. The limited opportunities are a result of a colonial system of employment
towards Mexican unskilled work, as described by Barrera (1979). A relationship where
cheap labor is not prevented entry but prevented access to jobs higher up the employment
ladder. At the macro level, it is a colonial arrangement of manual labor being restricted to
Mexican career paths. Mexican unskilled workers are being channeled from one laborintensive job to another. As are the individuals from my sample who come from
agricultural backgrounds, many now face limited opportunities to promotion because
they are being sealed into the laboring class of the industry. This exclusivity cuts worker
pathways to managerial positions in the trade, cementing a colonial relationship with
Mexican labor by maintaining labor subordinate and vulnerable for exploitation.
Racial discourse justifies the arrangement of Mexican labor in the margins of
employment. Throughout my experience in the trade, I recall the inhumane treatment of
our bodies. Our bodies were viewed as possessing innate abilities to resist harsh working
conditions; we were merely extensions of our arms and limbs which performed the work.
The Mexican was hard-working, undocumented, and undeserving. Our work ethic is
pervasive throughout. This resort of hegemonic discourse is a return to mid-19th century
racism based on biology popularized by Social Darwinism and eugenics, arguing
Mexicans possess the innate abilities and cultural foundations which make them
quintessential candidates for the trade. We are the “best fit” for the job.
The brand of illegality justified the harsh conditions and little pay because we
were undeserving. Our membership is always under scrutiny; we are viewed as
67
newcomers. Employers took credit for the smallest of luxuries workers experienced: the
purchase of a car, a small vacation, or a new apartment. Under the drywall/taper firm’s
perspective it was the work they provided which pushed us forward and it really was not
meant for us to perform in the first place. In hindsight, when workers expressed
displeasure with wages employers would audaciously replied, “well I am doing you a
favor; you know there is not much work right now.”
Once in the trade, workers face an informal merit system of employment.
Descanso is an informal layoff used to discipline workers. Those employed are rewarded
by the simple fact of continual employment. Those who do not comply with management
are punished by removing steady employment. Due to the transient labor of the
construction industry and the highly unstable employment opportunities, descanso is a
powerful mechanism to discipline workers, even beyond the workplace. Labor is at the
centerpiece of the industry. It is how employees are rewarded and punished, and it is how
individuals find value in the industry. Employee wages are founded on the economic
times of the industry and the level of work workers perform. Descanso is a leveraging
tool used to maintain the colonial relationship intact, to control and discipline workers to
the conditions of the industry.
Despite these conditions employees find ways to resist. Mexican workers do not
take the arrangement of labor lying down. Workers transform the rigid structure of labor.
Anthony Giddens’ describe this practice as the duality of structure, the relationship
between the structure and the agency of its constituents. Under this paradigm, structures
are actively being created by agents. Workers employ a gamut of strategies to convert
what others may consider dead-end careers into occupational possibilities. Workers do
68
not allow the colonial relationship of labor to dictate their opportunities in the trade.
Those employed make the best of their opportunities to form a livable wage and push
their families forward. Mexican workers use the informality of side work to resist the
instability of the formal market and create lateral and horizontal pathways into more
favorable positions, better working conditions, higher pay, and informal contracting
business arrangements. Side work also creates pathways into positions of management
which are typically sealed off in the formal market, but now achievable through informal
means. Workers have gone as far as achieving entrepreneurial business contractor
opportunities, and self-employed positions working directly for homeowners and general
contractors. Structurally, Mexican worker experiences in the United States are one of
restrictions through a colonial labor system funneling workers into the most undesirable
jobs across labor markets. Many have resisted this structure to find pathways to greater
opportunities outside and through the structure, and changing the structure of labor itself.
The realm of informal and formal labor in the construction industry is collapsing
on to itself. Mexican workers are in a better position to adapt to the collapsing categories
of nonunion work, unionized work, and the informal economy. It is becoming
increasingly difficult to distinguish one from the other. The informality of work is
absorbing the industry. Union labor is moving into the direction of informal nonunion
work. Union work is typically distinguished from the nonunion market as employment
opportunities stabilize through hiring halls. Unions are using informal tactics to compete
with nonunion firms. Rafael argued, even if they built two football stadiums it would not
be enough work to employ all the workers on the union unemployment rolls. Unions have
legalized the use of piecework, also known as contracted work, to pay employees, as long
69
as unions create the prices. Unions alter workers’ wage scales to maintain competitive
bids against the nonunionized drywall/taping firms. What was once guaranteed and stable
wages due to certification procedures and training (which place employees into solid
wage brackets), are now wages vulnerable to the fluctuations of the housing market. As
wages drop in the nonunion sector, unions drop employee wage scales to maintain
competitive with the nonunion work sector. This is lucrative for unions because it
maintains union doors open and union workers busy. Workers have no say in the matter.
They face unemployment or lower wage scales. These actions are indicative of the
collapsing nature of union sectors in the construction industry. The strength of unions in
the drywall/taper trade is slowly fading out as the informal economy is having a larger
part in the construction process. Thus, Mexican workers use these changes to their
advantage to create employment opportunities in the informal sector, restructuring the
arrangement of labor set aside for Mexican workers as “their work.”
IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
UNPACKING THE SOCIAL OF THE SOCIAL NETWORKS
This project explores the experiences of Mexican drywall/tapers in the
construction industry of nonunion work, particularly narrowing in on the colonial
relationship the construction industry holds over its Mexican workforce and how workers
resist the structure. The project does less of an analysis on the social networks of
workers. The inside and outside views of established working crews, the everydayness of
the work, and what makes the job go by. A large part of conducting this research will
involve how gender comes into play with these networks of men; a patriarchal network of
self-replicating men into employment opportunities in the construction industry of the
70
drywall/taper trade. How this dynamic affect the personalities these crews take on at the
job and how the male-dominated industry, coupled with the hypermasculine culture of
the workers, shape how work is performed. I found hints of these dynamics in my
research but need further inquiry to make definitive conclusions.
As discussed previously, the construction networks are not ethnic enclaves, but
instead, are pluralistic mechanisms to preserve identity. Tony, for example, would
receive grief from other workers because he played English stations on his radio at work.
They do not like that. They get mad. They just want to hear corridos and all that.
During lunch they are already talking about me, fucking guy you can see the
cactus on his head and he is listening to English music.
Tony’s racial allegiance comes into question. Other workers viewed Tony’s
actions as a sign of “selling out.” He is suddenly “too American” for the work
crew.
Also pervasive is the view that the trade is exclusively fit for men. Women
are left out of many employment networks into the trade. When asked if Salvador
recommends this line of work for his daughter, Salvador quickly responded he
would not because she is a girl.
No, because she is a girl. If she would have been a boy perhaps, to get [into] a
company, even if he was a taper, I would say yes.
It is clear Salvador feels the nature of the work is exclusively for men. Although women
do not make up a large number of the construction workforce, they are not entirely
excluded from this sector of work. Throughout my 13-years of experience in the trade, I
71
worked alongside women in the drywall/taper trade and outside the trade at various
construction sites. Women face additional barriers at the workplace which uncovered
many of the gendered practices of the trade. Female workers’ sexualities are often
questioned. Men rumor that women workers are possibly lesbian. Women coworkers
were also assigned the most mundane trade operations, translating into lower wages.
It is these gendered and hyermasculine practices which future research will
interrogate. Peña’s research paper (2006) on the discourse of machismo serves as a
catalyst for future work. His work undergirds a gendered style of cultural performance
which Peña titles the folklore of machismo (2006). Peña analyzes the manifestations of
Mexican machismo as enacted in folklore and other expressive practices of Mexican
males on a large farm in Fresno, California. I plan to expand this project to interrogate
these manifestations of entrenched machismo culture on the daily operations of the trade
and how these manifestations affect worker social networks, as Gidden’s duality of
structure not only enables workers to redefine the system, but also limits which workers
are included and which workers are pushed out because they do not fit in as “one of the
guys.”
As formally presented in the project, trade networks are imperative for many
workers to survive in the industry’s unstable working conditions. Workers rely on each
other to make connections into side work opportunities when work is slow. In my
experience I have witnessed crews break up over quarrels on the jobsite, but also
witnessed strong support networks formed amongst workers.
72
THEY ARE PLAYING BOTH SIDES
Future research should investigate the informalization of union work and how
these realms of the nonunion and union drywall/taper trade are being absorbed by the
underground economy. Two participants in my research were unionized. As members of
the union, they had to straddle both union and nonunion employment to survive the
unstable conditions of the trade. While folks make large distinctions between union and
nonunion, many of the practices in the informal sector were being played out also in the
union: lowering pay scales, piecework wages, and descanso.
73
APPENDIX. Spanish narratives in their original language
Payments and Benefits
Pg. 39 Como en las casas siempre paga a 20 o 22, y en comerciales siempre nos
paga a 24. Pero es lo más que pagan, 24, 25. A bajado poquito el precio también.
Antes me pagaban a 25 casi todo pues, comerciales, casas, y ahora ya no, porque
cambio. Es porque había un tiempo que [el patrón] casi no agarraba nada de jales,
entonces le digo pues acomoda los precios pues. No mas acomódate, si te pagan
menos pues págame un poquito menos. Te pagan más, pues me pagas más y es lo
que va saliendo. En las casas donde le pagan un poquito menos me paga a 22, y
en los comerciales ya me paga a 25.
Pg. 39 Estoy augusto trabajando con el [patrón] pero no más el problema [es] el
pago, que no nos pagan mucho. Pero lo bueno es que nos tiene ocupados todo el
ano, 48 horas casi siempre. Al menos que me aseguren unos 20 [dólares la hora]
y unas 40 horas por semana si me muevo, si no, no. Porque de nada sirve si me
muevo y me ofrezcan 18 [dólares la hora] si estoy descansando 3 días y
trabajando 3, no tiene chiste.
Pg. 39 Hay muchas veces que nosotros nos ponemos presión porque si te están
pagando barato, trabajas tarde para terminar el trabajo, porque no te están
pagando mucho y ni quieres manejar al trabajo tantos días cuando no estás
ganado lo que debes. Estas perdiendo el tiempo manejando al trabajo si no
avanzas el trabajo. A veces prefiere uno trabajar tarde para terminar el trabajo y
irse a otro. Como te digo a veces nosotros nos presionamos. El patrón nos
presiona depende que tan rápido quieren el trabajo. Y como te digo hay dos, uno
es cuando pagan bien barato y te dicen, quiero este trabajo para tal día, y ok
ahuevo tienes que trabajar tarde para sacar rápido el trabajo. Ellos te aplican
presión y tú te aplicas más presión en ti mismo.
Work Histories
Pg. 42-43 La construcción siempre es dura pero comparado lo del campo no se
compara. No es lo mismo que andar afuera rascando o como te digo si está
lloviendo andar con los pies mojados. Con el sol pegándote en la espalda todo el
tiempo, no se compara. Siempre es más fuerte, siempre es mejor trabajar en este
trabajo [construcción] que estar en el campo. El campo es muy sufrido, depende
mucho de los climas. Si hace mucho calor todo el tiempo te está pegando el calor
a ti y si está lloviendo es igual, el frio ni se diga. Y aquí tengo la chanza de que
estamos adentro.
74
Limited Opportunities
Pg. 43 Pues comencé más que nada por tratar de encontrar un trabajo, más que a
mí me sirviera más, me entiendes. Lo que yo hacía antes no me gustaba, se me
hacia lo que ganaba, se me hacia como muy, que siempre me iba a mantener allí.
Entonces pensé, dije yo, si agarras otro trabajo, como tu papa me invito a
trabajar, si agarras el trabajo hay más posibilidades que yo pueda agarrar más
dinero.
Pg. 44 Por mucho vas a llegar, digamos como yo, de encargado [foreman] nada
más. Pero de allí para allá yo no miro más puertas porque para donde le doy. Para
ser súper [superintendent] no se puede, no creo que pueda. Requiere mucho
Ingles, requiere de saber de como comenzar el trabajo hasta como terminarlo.
Tener mucha comunicación con los dueños que van a rentar las oficinas, y eso
para mí se me hace más difícil. Hasta donde yo puedo llegar yo siento que es allí.
Es lo más. Y para ser dueño de una compañía imagínate, se necesita mucho
trabajo, mucho dinero, y luego de donde.
The Best Fit
Pg. 48 Yo pienso que si, por lo mismo que aparte que nos gusta este trabajo. Es
un buen trabajo, nos paga bien pues hacemos buen trabajo también. La mejoría
por decir, los americanos saben hacer trabajos, pero lo único que tienen es que
son americanos. Pero en realidad el trabajo no lo saben hacer como uno.
Pg. 48 La primera, el mexicano se lo va hacer por más barato… porque siembre
uno de mexicano cobra menos que un güero, Americanos. Si tú, un mexicano te
cobra veinte un Americano te cobra cuarenta. Y otra ventaja que uno de
Mexicano va sacar el trabajo más rápido que un de Americano… Porque somos
más trabajadores. Americanos, ellos saben trabajar pero muy lentos, o muchos no
saben trabajar nomas porque son Americanos.
The Only Thing About Papers is That I can go to Mexico
Pg. 52 Yo nunca eh discutido, nomas cuando no me han pagado bien había unas
veces cuando trabajaba unas dos semanas, tres semanas y a buscar otra de te
pagara lo que tú sientes lo que tu trabajo vale. Porque tampoco podemos regalar
el trabajo, si no te pagan lo que tú piensas lo que vale tu trabajo. Es como el tape
se ve como trabajo que no es significante pero lo quieren bien, bien hecho. Yo
pienso que [que quieren] un trabajo profesional. Si sabe hacer por el tiempo que
tiene, pues ya ves que en todo que haces si ya tienes mucho tiempo lo vas a saber
hacer bien, pues tienen que pagar lo que es. Es lo que pienso yo.
75
Pg. 52 Yo siempre eh tratado de hacer las cosas mejor, y siempre estar en algo
mejor, tener un jale mejor. Como hay muchas compañías, pues buscar la mejor.
Porque me gusta ganar dinero, no me gusta ganar poquito. Me gusta ganar mucho
pero mi trabajo me hace ganar ese dinero. No es nomas porque yo quiero ganar
dinero pero hago un jale para la chingada, no. Porque yo hago un jale bien por
eso agarro ese dinero.
Pg. 53 Lo único de los papeles [es] que puedo salir a México… Es lo único. Lo
único es que puedo entrar a la unión y no arriesgo que si me parra la migra. Que
estoy legalmente aquí, que es una de las cosas principales para estar en este país
tienes que estar legal.
Pg. 53 El agarro sus papeles y luego se le miraba que quería ganar mucho dinero,
ya nomas porque tiene papeles. Si él se pone a pensar bien de su trabajo que el
ofrece, que él hace, no es para pagarle lo que el pide. El tiene que demonstrar con
su trabajo. No tiene que decir yo quiero tanto, tiene que demonstrar primero con
el jale.
My Father Laid Me Off for Two Weeks
Pg. 56 Ahorita es otro trabajo, antes había otra persona de foreman, ese sí. Ese si
te hacia trabajar, y si no trabajabas te descansaba… Te decía vas a trabajar
mañana, [Ignacio decía] o pero no puedo. Te dejaba ha sí y para el otro día no
ibas a trabajar. Te descansaba dos días y ya después te hablaba si quería… Era
como que te estaba castigaba para la próxima vez que el te dijera que trabajaras
tenias que hacerlo. No es que querías, pero tenias que hacerlo.
Resisting the Structure
Pg. 59 No me querían pagar y como sabia [el dueño] que no tenia papeles yo
pienso que de eso se baso, de que no me iba a pagar el guey… y más que todo
porque era cash no estaba en el payroll.
Pg. 59-60 Me llamaron para decirme si quitaba esa orden venían y me pagaban
ese día, y como me puse a pensar en todo eso, yo no quiero que se me puede
regresar a mi. Yo lo que ocupaba es el dinero, es lo que más tenía en la mente.
Dinero, dinero, [para] pagar la casa. Más que nada pagar la casa, tengo que
pagar. Y le dije sabes qué, y hasta yo me puse mis monos, si vienen horita a
traerme ese cheque quito esa orden. Pues si lo vas. Si me quieren creer si no
vállense a la jodida. Así les dije.
76
Side Work
Pg. 61 Para [trabajos] más de 500 dólares por horas, porque es mejor por horas.
Mira esto es la cosa, si tú dices voy a un trabajo, cuanto me cobras. No puedo ser
un trabajo por más de 500 dólares por contrato, no. No más tiene que ser mejor
por horas… Por horas no hay problema.
Discussion
Pg. 65 Si, por lo pronto ya tengo un plan de cómo resolver esto en unos anos tal
vez. Porque tampoco me quiero levar a mi hijo horita para allá. Aparte de la
situación que esta México es difícil. Pero tampoco quiero quitarle la oportunidad
a mi hijo si él es ciudadano de aquí. Tampoco quiero quitarle la oportunidad de a
la mejor el agarre buen trabajo aquí, de que agarre un buen, de que estudie y
agarre un buen trabajo y yo quiero hacer lo que sea, lo que más pueda yo. El
estando grande dándole lo mejor que yo pueda y es su decisión de él. Mientras lo
le pueda ayudar pues allí voy estar. Es una de las cosas más que nada, la familia
es la que detiene una aquí también.
Implications for Future Research
Pg. 70 No les gusta eso, se enojan. Es que no mas quieren escuchar corridos y
eso. Durante la hora de lonche los escucho hablando de me, es pinche wey
escuchando música en Ingles y con el nopal en la frente.
Pg. 70 No, porque es mujer. Pero si fuera hombre tal vez, para entrar a una
compañía, aunque fuera taipero, yo digo que sí.
77
REFERENCES
Acuña, Rodolfo. 2004. Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. New York: Pearson
Longman Press.
Akers, Justin C. and Mike Davis. 2006. No One is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State
Violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.
Anzaldua, Gloria. 1987. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco, CA:
Spinsters Aunt Lute.
Barrera, Mario. 1979. Race and Class in the Southwest: A Theory of Racial Inequality.
Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
Becker, S. Howard. 1978. “Practitioners of Vice and Crime.” Pp. 85-101 in Sociological
Method A Sourcebook, edited by Norman K. Denzin. New York: McGraw Hill
Book Company.
Beneria, Lourdes. 1989. “Subcontracting and Employment Dynamics in Mexico City.”
Pp. 173-188 in The Informal Economy: Studies in Advanced and Less Developed
Countries, edited by A. Portes, M. Castells, and L. A. Benton. Baltimore, MA:
The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Benmayor, Rina and Flores, V. William.1997. “Constructing Cultural Citizenship.” Pp.
1-23 in Latino Cultural Citizenship Claiming Identity, Space, and Rights, edited
by W.V. Flores and R. Benmayor. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Benton, A. Lauren. 1989. “Industrial Subcontracting and the Informal Sector: the Politics
of Restructuring the Madrid Electronics Industry”. Pp. 228-244 in The Informal
Economy:Studies in Advanced and Less Developed Countries, edited by A.
78
Portes, M. Castells, and L. A. Benton. Baltimore, MA: The John Hopkins
University Press.
Blauner, Robert. 1972. Racial Oppression in America. New York: Harper & Row
Publishers.
Bonacich, Edna. 1976. “Advanced Capitalism and Black/White Relations in the United
States: A Split Labor Market Interpretation”. American Sociological Review
41(1): 34-51.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2001. “Color-Blind Racism.” Pp.131-138 in Race, Class, and
Gender in the United States, edited by P. S. Rothenberg. New York: Worth
Publishers.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2003. “New Racism, Color-Blind Racism, and the Future of
Whiteness in America.” Pp. 359-375. In White out: The Continuing
Significance of Racism, edited by A. W. Doane and E. Bonilla-Silva. New
York: Routledge.
California Department of Industrial Relations. 2011. “Undocumented Worker Rights.”
Retrieved October 19, 2011 (http://www.dir.ca.gov/QAundoc.html).
Castells, Manuel and Portes, Alejandro. 1989. “World Underneath: The Origins,
Dynamics, and Effects of the Informal Economy.” Pp. 11-37 in The Informal
Economy: Studies in Advanced and Less Developed Countries edited by A.
Portes, M. Castells, & L. A. Benton. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins
University Press.
Chavez, Leo R. 2008. The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the
Nation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
79
Chomsky, Aviva. 2007. “They Take Our Jobs”: and 20 other myths about immigration.
Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Coleman, S. James. 1978. “Relational Analysis: The Study of Social Organizations with
Survey Methods.” Pp. 75-84 in Sociological Method A Sourcebook, edited by
Norman K. Denzin. New York: McGraw Hill Book Company.
Collins, Patricia. 1986. “Learning form the Outsider Within: The Sociological
Significance of Black Feminist Thought.” Social Problems 33(6): S13-S32.
Contractors State License board. 2010. “Department of Consumer Affairs: Contractors
State License Board.” Retrieved September 15 2010 (http://www.cslb.ca.gov/).
De Genova, Nicholas. 2005. Working the Boundaries: Race, Space and “Illegality” in
Mexico Chicago. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Denzin, K. Norman. 2003. “The Cinematic Society and the Reflexive Interview.” Pp.141155 in Postmodern Interviewing, edited by J. F. Gubrum and J. A. Holstein.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Denzin, K. Norman & Yvonne S. Lincoln. 2000. “Introduction: The Discipline and
Practice of Qualitative Research.” Pp. 1-29 in Handbook of Qualitative Research,
edited by N. S. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Department of Homeland Security 2005. “Apprehensions by the U.S. Border Patrol:
2005-2010.” Retrieved October 5, 2011
(http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/publications/ois-apprehensions-fs2005-2010.pdf).
80
Durand, Jorge, Douglass Massey and Rene Zenteno. 2001. “Mexican Immigration to the
United States: Continuities and Changes.” The Latin American Studies
Association 36(1):107-127.
Eduardo, Richard, David E. Gordon and Michael Reich. 1982. Segmented Work Divided
Workers: The Historical Transformation of Labor in the United States. New
York: Cambridge University Press.
Emerson, Robert, Rachel Fretz and Linda Shaw. 1995. Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes.
Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Erlich, Mark, and Jeff Grabelsky. 2005. “Standing at the crossroads: the building trades
in the twenty-first century. Labor History 46:421-45.
Fernandez-Kelly, P. M. and Garcia M. Anna. 1989. “Informalization at the Core:
Hispanic Women, Homework, and the Advanced Capitalist State”. Pp. 247-264 in
The Informal Economy:Studies in Advanced and Less Developed Countries,
edited by A. Portes, M. Castells, and L. A. Benton. Baltimore, MA: The John
Hopkins University Press.
Finkel, Gerald. 1997. The Economics of the Construction Industry. New York: ME
Sharpe.
Fontana, Andrea. 2003. “Postmodern Trends in Interviewing.” Pp. 51-65 in Postmodern
Interviewing, edited by J. F. Gubrum and J.A. Holstein. Thousand Oaks, CA:
Sage Publications.
Fontana, Andrea & James H. Frey. 2000. “The Interview: From Structured Questions to
Negotiated Text.” Pp. 645- 672 in Handbook of Qualitative Research, edited by
N. S. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
81
Forman, Tyrone and Edward Murguia. 2003. “Shades of Whiteness: The Mexican
American Experience in Relation to Anglos and Blacks.” Pp. 63-80 in White Out:
The Continuing Significance of Racism, edited by A. W. Doane and E. BonillaSilva. New York: Routledge.
Giddens, Anthony. 1984. The Constitution of Society. University of California Press.
Glenn, Evelyn N. 2011. “Constructing Citizenship: Exclusion, Subordination, and
Resistance.” American Sociological Review: 76(1):1-24.
Gonzales y Gonzalez, Elsa & Yvonna Lincoln. 2006. “Decolonizing Qualitative
Research: Nontraditional Reporting Forms in the Academy.” Pp. 193-214 in
Qualitative Inquiry and the Conservative Challenge, edited by N. Denzin & M. D.
Giardina. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Griffith, David. 2006. American Guestworkers: Jamaicans and Mexicans in the U.S.
Labor Market. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania University Press.
Guskin, Jane and David L. Wilson. 2007. The Politics of Immigration: Questions and
Answers. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Hall, Stuart and David Held. 1989. “Citizens and Citizenship.” Pp. 173-88 in New Times:
The Changing Face of Politics in the 1990s, edited by S. Hall and M. Jacques.
New York: Verso.
Holstein, A. James & Jaber F. Gubrium. 2003. “Active Interviewing.” Pp. 67-80 in
Postmodern Interviewing, edited by J. F. Gubrum and J. A. Holstein. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
82
Holston, James. 1998. “Spaces of Insurgent Citizenship.” Pp. 37-56 in Making the
Invisible Visible: A Multicultural Planning History, edited by L. Sandercock. Los
Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette. 1994. Gendered Transitions: Mexican Experiences of
Immigration. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
Kochhar, Rakesh. 2008. “Latino Labor Report, 2008: Construction Growth for Latinos.”
Pew Hispanic Center. Retrieved October 5, 2011
(http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/88.pdf).
Lopez, Ian F. H. 1996. White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race. New York: New
York University Press.
Lorey, E. David. 1999. The U.S.-Mexican Border in the Twentieth Century. Wilmington,
DE: Scholarly Resources Inc.
Massey, Douglas S., Jorge Durand, and Nolan J. Malone. 2002. Beyond Smoke and
Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in an era of Economic Integration. New York:
Russell Sage Foundation.
Migration Policy Institute.2010. “Immigration and the United States: Recession Affects
Flows, Prospects for Reform”. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.
Retrieved October 29, 2011
(http://migrationinformation.org/Profiles/display.cfm?ID=766#8).
Nissen, Bruce. 2002. “The role of Labor Education in Transforming a Union Toward
Organizing Immigrants: a Case Study.” Labor Studies Journal 27:109-27.
Omi, Michael and Howard Winant. 1994. Racial Formation in the United States: From
the 1960’s to the 1990’s. New York: Routledge.
83
Ong, Paul & Abel Valenzuela Jr. 1996. “The Labor Market Immigrant Effects and Racial
Disparities.” Pp. 165-91 in Ethnic Los Angeles edited by M. Bozorgmehr and R.
Waldinger New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Passel, Jeffrey. 2006. “size and characteristics of the unauthorized migrant population in
the US.” Pew Hispanic Center. retrieved October 6 2011
(http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=61).
Passel, Jeffrey S. and D'Vera Cohn.2011. "Unauthorized Immigrant Population National
and State Trends, 2010" Pew Hispanic Center, Washington, D.C. Retrieved
October 5, 2011(http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=133).
Patton, Q. Michael. 1987. How to Use Qualitative Methods in Evaluation. Beverly Hills,
CA: Sage Publications.
Pena, Manuel. 2006. “Folklore, Machismo and Every Day Practice: Writing Mexican
Worker Culture.” Western Folklore 65: 137-166.
Pew Hispanic Center. 2011. “Unauthorized Immigrants in the U.S.” Washington DC:
Hispanic Pew Center. Retrieved October 5, 2011
(http://pewhispanic.org/unauthorizedimmigration/).
Piore J. Michael. 1986. “From Foreign Workers to Settlers? Transnational Migration and
the Emergence of New Minorities.” Annals of the American Academy of Political
and Social Science 485: 22-33.
Portes, Alejandro, Manuel Castells and Lauren A. Benton. 1989. “Conclusion: The Policy
Implications of Informality”. Pp. 298-311 in The Informal Economy: Studies in
Advanced and Less Developed Countries, edited by A. Portes, M. Castells, and L
A. Benton. Baltimore, MA: The John Hopkins University Press.
84
Portes, Alejandro and Ruben G. Rumbaut. 2006. Immigrant America: A Portrait. Los
Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
Rabourn, Mike. 2008. “Organized Labor in Residential Construction.” Labor Studies
Journal 33(9):8-26.
Rosaldo, Renato. 1997. “Cultural Citizenship, Inequality, and Multiculturalism.” Pp. 2738 in Latino Cultural Citizenship Claiming Identity, Space, and Rights, edited by
W.V. Flores and R. Benmayor. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Rosaldo, Renato. 1999. “Cultural Citizenship, Inequality, and Multiculturalism.” Pp. 25361 in Race, Identity, and Citizenship, edited by R. D. Torres, L. F. Miron, and J.
X. Inda. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
Royster, Deirdre A. 2003. Race and the Invisible Hand: How White Networks exclude
Black men from Blue-Collar Jobs. Los Angeles, CA: University of California
Press.
Rumbaut, Ruben G. 1994. “Origins and Destinies: Immigration to the United States since
World War II.” Pp. 15-45 in New American Destinies: a Reader in Contemporary
Asian and Latino Immigration, edited by D. Y. Hamamoto and R. D. Torres.
New York: Routledge.
Sassen-Koob, Saskia.1989. “New York City’s Informal Economy.” Pp. 60-77 in The
Informal Economy: Studies in Advanced and Less Developed Countries, edited by
A. Portes, M. Castells, & L. A. Benton. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins
University Press.
Sassen, Saskia. 1989. “American’s Immigration ‘Problem’”. World Policy Journal
34(4):811-832.
85
Silvestrini, G. Blanca.1997. “The world we enter when claiming rights: Latinos and Their
Quest for Culture.” Pp. 39- 53 in Latino Cultural Citizenship Claiming Identity
Space, and Rights, edited by W.V. Flores and R. Benmayor. Boston, MA: Beacon
Press.
Smith, Linda. 2006. “Choosing the Margins: The Role of Research in Indigenous
Struggles for Social Justice.” Pp. 151-171 in Qualitative Inquiry and the
Conservative Challenge, edited by N. Denzin & M. D. Giardina. Walnut Creek,
CA: Left Coast Press.
Solórzano, G. Daniel, and Tara Yosso. 2002. “Critical Race Methodology: CounterStorytelling as an Analytical Framework for Education Research.” Qualitative
Inquiry 8(1):23-44.
Standing, Guy. 1989. “The British Experiment: Structural Adjustment or Accelerated
decline?” Pp. 279-312 in The Informal Economy: Studies in Advanced and Less
Developed Countries, edited by A. Portes, M. Castells, & L. A. Benton.
Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press.
Stepick, Alex. 1989. “Miami’s two Informal Sectors.” Pp. 111-134 in The Informal
Economy: Studies in Advanced and Less Developed Countries, edited by A.
Portes, M. Castells, & L. A. Benton. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins
University Press.
U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. 2010. “Occupational Employment and Wages,
2010.” U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved October 5, 2011
(http://www.bls.gov/oes/2010/may/chartbook_2010.pdf).
86
U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. 2012-13. “Occupational Outlook Handbook:
Construction Managers. U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved March 29, 2013
(http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/construction-managers.htm).
U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 1999. “U.S. Border Patrol Fiscal Year
Apprehension Statistics.” Retrieved October 5, 2011
(http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/border_security/border_patrol/usbp_statistics/)
Valenzuela, Abel. 1995. “Compatriots or Competitors? Job Competition Between
Foreign-and U.S.-Born Angelenos.” Pp. 287-314 in New American Destinies: a
Reader in Contemporary Asian and Latino Immigration, edited by D. Y.
Homamoto and R. D. Torres. New York: Routledge.
Valenzuela Jr., Abel. 2002. “Working on the Margins in Metropolitan Los Angeles”
Immigrants in Day-Labor Work.” Migraciones Internacionales. 1(2): 6-28.
Waldinger, R. 1996. Still the Promised City? African Americans and New Immigrants in
Postindustrial New York. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Weil, David. 2005. “The Contemporary Industrial Relations System in Construction.”
Labor History 46:447-71.
Wilson, Tamar D. 1993. “Theoretical Approaches to Mexican Wage Labor Migration.”
Pp. 47-72 in New American Destinies: A Reader In Contemporary Asian and
Latino Immigration, edited by D. Y. Hamamoto and R. D. Torres. New York:
Routledge.
Zlolniski, Christian. 2006. Janitors, Street Vendors, and Activists: The Lives of Mexican
Immigrants in Silicon Valley. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.