Some of the country’s biggest temp agencies and high profile companies regularly delegate hiring and employment services to a network of underground labor brokers that charge workers obligatory fees for rides to their jobs and to cash checks. The fees push workers incomes below the minimum wage. That’s according to a new investigation by ProPublica and Marketplace, which ran a multi-part series this week on the practice.
The labor brokers, called “raiteros,” are often informally subcontracted by major temp agencies that have contracts with companies including Fresh Espress, Sony, Marlboro and Ty Inc. to deliver temporary workers to warehouses and factories. The raiteros control access to the jobs from start to finish, determine who gets jobs and who doesn’t and charge workers $5 to fill out job applications and $8 for a ride to work. “If you don’t pay for a ride, raiteros won’t find you a job,” Marketplace reports. Workers said that if they drive to work themselves they’ll lose the job.
The investigation found that the mostly Latino and largely undocumented folks locked into these relationships with the brokers don’t get paychecks directly from the companies, but rather through the raiteros themselves. The brokers distribute checks at check cashing shops that charge workers one to two percent. “Even immigrants with their own bank account are obligated to use a check cashing service,” Marketplace reports.
In the end, workers end up getting paid below minimum wage after the fees are deducted.
Several workers in Chicago, where the investigation is based, told Marketplace and ProPublica that when they complained to the temp agency Select Remedy that they had not received checks, the agency referred the workers back to the brokers.
In Illinois, state laws passed in 2006 made it illegal for temp agencies to require workers to pay for transportation to and from work or force them to pay fees to cash checks. After the law changed, the entirely underground and unregulated raiteros popped up around the city and broke all the rules without notice.
Some advocates interviewed for the story say the raiteros insulate employers and temp staffing agencies from dealing with complaints from workers and from legal concerns about hiring undocumented immigrants.