What Workers Want Depends: Legal Knowledge and the Desire for Workplace Change among Day Laborers


  • Mary Nell Trautner,

  • Erin Hatton,

  • Kelly E. Smith

  • We are grateful to Tim Bartley, Wade Roberts, and Karin Uhlich, who helped in developing the survey and designing our study. Rebecca Sager, George Hobor, Stephan Scholz, and Irene Alvarado assisted with data collection. We wish to thank Calvin Morrill, Anna Maria Marshall, Jessica Collett, Robert Adelman, Editor Nancy Reichman, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Paul Durlak and Margaret Smith provided valuable research assistance. Funding for this project was provided by the American Sociological Association's Sydney S. Spivack Program in Applied Social Research and Social Policy, The Southwest Center for Economic Integrity, and the Center for Applied Sociology at the University of Arizona.

Address correspondence to Mary Nell Trautner, University at Buffalo, SUNY—Department of Sociology, 430 Park Hall Buffalo New York 14260, USA. Telephone: 716-645-8477; E-mail: trautner@buffalo.edu.


In this article, we identify legal knowledge as a key difference between workers who desire workplace change and those who do not. Based on surveys with 121 day laborers, we find that not all day laborers are equally dissatisfied with their jobs, despite uniformly difficult working conditions. Some day laborers do not want to make any real changes to the day labor industry, while others desire a range of industry changes, from higher wages to greater government regulation and unionization. A key difference between these workers is their knowledge of employment law: Those who know the law are more likely to desire workplace change.