Working in the Shadows

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gabriel Thompson talks about what it's like to do physical labor for minimum wage. In Working in the Shadows: A Year Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won't Do, he gives an account of the year he spent working alongside immigrants-- picking lettuce in Arizona, working the graveyard shift at a chicken slaughterhouse in Alabama, and delivering food for an upscale Manhattan restaurant.


Gabriel Thompson

Comments [16]

Deb from Alabama

Are we willing to pay four times as much for our food? The majority of Americans buy their meat at stores like Wal-Mart and are not willing to pay $15.00 a pound for hamburger. Granted labor standards should be better but you can't pay people $20.00 per hour for their labor and have expensive safety standards, medical coverage, retirement and paid days off and expect to pay $2.00 a pound for the results of their labor. We are addicted to cheap food.

Feb. 18 2010 08:23 AM
dalix from NYC

Dishwashing is much more difficult than CEO. Lenny and the author were right on target. Great job. Here are just a few of the ideas off the top of my head.

You're in a never-ending struggle to survive. It's impossible to support your family on those wages and impossible to confront many family problems (bad schools, lead paint) that require money to solve.

Also, having to work when you're sick because you can't afford a day without pay all adds up to a life beaten down, slaving away with much reward.

And as the author states, the complete lack of respect you're given. Which would you rather be: CEO or dishwasher? Which one do you think leads to a healthier, more stabile life?

Feb. 17 2010 10:51 AM
Anthony from Rockland, NY

I am an example of a native born American losing work to illegals. I hold a full time job, but have been able to purchase a house and raise a family only with the help of a second job. I have done roofing, gutters, landscaping, food delivery, drove limos and was a waiter. In the past decade, I have found this side work much harder to obtain, especially in this economy. I have noticed as immigrants (legal and illegal, mostly illegal) have taken these positions, I have been expected to withstand worsening conditions. As this happened, many Americans left the work. This is not good for America. Americans are hard working people and tolerate conditions that many people would not. Slavery was abolished in America and immigration has been the next best thing. Poor, tired, huddled masses yearning to be free are part of what America is all about, but greed and manipulation should not be.

Feb. 17 2010 12:06 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

Did Mr. Lopate say it’s harder to wash dishes than run a multi-billion dollar international corporation?
How much does the CEO of WNYC get paid because that job is much easier than running a multi-billion dollar international and all the host does is sit on his bum and chit-chat for two hours. Will you forego your donor provided salary and give it to one of the poor immigrant workers? Typical bleeding heart faux populist BS.
JP from NJ has it right.

Feb. 16 2010 01:40 PM
JP from NJ

Having worked at every position in a restaurant kitchen, dishwasher is by far the easiest both for the skill and labor required. That’s why it’s the lowest paying.

Feb. 16 2010 01:35 PM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Let’s face, America lives in the 19th century. Legalized slavery. And the public doesn’t give a rat’s ass.

Feb. 16 2010 01:33 PM
Amy from Manhattan

If I want to make sure I shop/eat at a place that doesn't mistreat its workers, is there a way to know?

Feb. 16 2010 01:33 PM
tb from nyc

Look at these comments. The author is way off with his sappy idea of "how hard they work" Let them work hard in their own country. WE NEED JOBS NOW<

Feb. 16 2010 01:32 PM
tb from nyc

My grandfather worked all his life to raise workplace standards. The massive influx of third world workers have allowed workplace standards to fall. Mr. Thompson is missing a large part of the story. Its easy to say ameircan workers will not stay with 3rd world working conditions, WHY should we? We have advanced beyond this, but employers are exploiting ILLEGAL workers to turn the clock back.

Feb. 16 2010 01:24 PM
JP from NJ

Good points tom from qns

At the turn of the century greedy mill owner after mill owner testified in front of congress saying that if child labor was outlawed, the industrial revolution would leave America overnight. How is this any different today with undocumented workers?

Feb. 16 2010 01:24 PM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Leonard, the town you spoke of is Riverside, NJ, north of Philadelphia.

Feb. 16 2010 01:21 PM

You bet your bippy most Americans would not take those jobs. My Black ancestors did that crap for decades praying that the future generations will not have to. Sorry to say, but maybe you feel a little guilty. Did your research improve the situation?

Feb. 16 2010 01:18 PM
Betty Ann from UES

I know this sounds off-topic, but could you ask the guest about homosexual immigrants and their work in these places? Their struggle seems to be even more significant in these places.

Feb. 16 2010 01:18 PM
tom from qns

Did the author study any history at all? The labor standards we built up during the 20th century have been massively side=stepped because illegal workers are there to step in. Years ago SKILLED WORKERS in meat processing plants laid-off and illegals hired. Illegals have been bussed in to fill the shoes of well paid meat packing workers. In my neiborhood, dozens of CHEAP laboroers allow construction firms to tear down beautiful old place and replace them because of the cheap labor.

Feb. 16 2010 01:17 PM
JP from NJ

Does your guest fell these low paying back breaking jobs filled by undocumented workers are creating a cast society because employers know undocumented workers won’t complain or quit because these are the only jobs they can get? Why should anyone, legal or illegal work under these conditions? Isn’t this more a matter of a greedy employer then Americans being to lazy to take these jobs?

Feb. 16 2010 01:15 PM
akena in ny

Didn't Barbra Erinreight sp? already do this? This is not an original idea. What's the point? Male copycat version? Oh yes, Nickel and Dimed was her book.

Feb. 16 2010 10:04 AM

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