2021 | Ricardo Gomez, Yvette Iribe, and Yubing Tian
In 2019, Yvette Iribe and Ricardo Gomez published Life Histories of Labor and Resilience: 25 years of Casa Latina in Seattle, documenting the history and impact of Casa Latina – a non-profit immigrant workers’ rights organization. The book is the result of a project supported by a Washington State Labor Research Grant through the UW Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies. Based on interviews and oral histories with day laborers, domestic workers, staff and volunteers of Casa Latina, as well as archival research, the book explores how the organization has pioneered in day labor organizing and transformed the lives of thousands of Latino/as in Washington State since its founding in 1994.
Iribe and Gomez, along with Yubing Tian, a doctoral candidate in the UW Information School, also produced a brief report that summarizes some of the key findings from their research. While the book details the past, present, and future of Casa Latina, this report focuses on three categories of activities that Casa Latina engages in to support migrant day laborers in navigating the informal job market: finding work, creating community, and labor activism.
Finding work: Day labor is a particularly precarious type of work in the US, which results in economic insecurity, vulnerability to exploitation by employers, and exposure to hazardous working conditions. Casa Latina was founded with the goal of organizing and formalizing the job-seeking process for day laborers who used to wait on the streets looking for work every day. Staff at Casa Latina’s dispatch center collect information about available jobs and allocate them to day workers seeking jobs. Beyond locating employment opportunities, Casa Latina also offers work-related training and social services to workers through the center.
Creating community: Community building and organizing are central themes in the work of Casa Latina. Beyond its role as a worker center, Casa Latina serves as a space that helps its members navigate a new country and build community together. Over the years, Casa Latina has been able to retain its members and inspire many to contribute to the organization by volunteering and becoming employed staff.
Labor activism: Galvanizing labor activism and providing the space for worker-members to organize amongst themselves has been an integral part of Casa Latina’s mission from the beginning. The Comité de Defensa del Trabajador (CDT) or Workers’ Defense Committee—composed of Casa Latina staff, worker-members, and allies—aims to spread awareness of workers’ rights and help workers with wage theft cases. The CDT has also developed a collaborative relationship with relevant government organizations like the Seattle Office of Labor Standards (OLS). A recent example of the power of Casa Latina worker-member labor activism is the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which was won by a coalition of domestic workers and their allies in 2019.
Casa Latina has emerged as a champion for advancing the rights of Latinx migrant workers, day laborers, and domestic workers in Seattle, and has been instrumental in the development and implementation of labor policies adopted by the city. Their work, which continues today, offers an alternative version of U.S. migration that both exemplifies what a welcoming community looks like at the local level and strives for an inclusive world with social justice and dignified work for all at its forefront.