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Day laborers are essential to the Dallas economy. The city is working on a program to help them

A large plaza leads up to Dallas City Hall, a tan, angular building designed by architect I.M. Pei
Tony Gutierrez
Associated Press
Dallas plans to launch its day labor pilot program in early 2023

Dallas is trying to come with a program that will offer a more organized and safer way to connect people seeking a day’s work with people hoping to hire them.

Early every morning, would-be laborers seeking a day’s work gather in parking lots or other locations around the Dallas-Fort Worth region, waiting for potential employers to show up with an offer. Many are immigrants, but many are not.

This informal process greases the spokes of the Dallas-Fort Worth economy, relied on industries as varied as building trades, landscaping, restaurants and cleaning companies to find the skilled and unskilled workers they need to keep their projects on track and deliver for their customers.

But there are downsides that the City of Dallas wants to address: Workers are often more vulnerable to abusive, and may not be paid fair wages. Neighbors complain about people loitering nearby. And would-be employers may not find the workers they need, delaying projects.

The city is in the process of hiring a coordinator to help smooth this process, though exactly how that’ll look is still to be determined. A more centralized process would also allow the city and nonprofits to disseminate information to workers about training opportunities and other services, city officials said in a briefing to council members on the Workforce, Equity and Education committee.

Deputy City Manager Kimberly Bizor Tolbert said the city is launching a pilot program in conjunction with Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas while it continues to explore what the program might look like.

“We believe that we can learn and we can grow and then come back to the community and be able to talk about what this would look like if the city were to establish additional locations, or just a single location either on our own or in partnership,” Tolbert said.

Early stages

Those options would be explored with input from council members, contractors’ associations, and nonprofits. City staff has been researching options since the summer.

Some cities, like Plano, run centralized day labor centers to more effectively connect people looking for temporary work with employers. According to the city’s website, the center sees between 150 and 350 would-be workers come to the center every day.

Garland closed the day labor center it ran in coordination with Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas in 2020.

Haltom City addressed these issues by passing an ordinance in 2015 barring people from gathering outdoors and laying out ground rules for setting up labor halls.

Another option discussed in committee briefings is operating some kind of mobile day labor center rather than relying on a fixed location, or situating these services in existing city properties like recreation centers or libraries. Dallas previously considered setting up a day labor center in 2015.

Tolbert said the first step is hiring is a pilot program coordinator in the coming months who can take the lead on charting a path for Dallas day labor policy.

“We’ve got to get somebody on the ground who can devote their attention on this every day of the week, and right now we don’t have that resource in the department, but we want to get that resource on board here very soon,” Tolbert said.

Tolbert said the coordinator will be hired by the end of the year.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.