A Day's Work

In 2012, Lawrence Daquan “Day” Davis, a temporary worker, was killed on his first day at work.  The film about this case, called A Day’s Work, will be screened twice at Mayworks this year as part of this year’s theme, Arts Against Precarity. It is the opening night film, screening on Friday April 28 at 6:30 p.m. in conjunction with the Worker’s Action Centre, and will screen again on Wednesday May 3, in conjunction with the Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP) at Driftwood Community Centre. Dinner, childcare and TTC tokens provided at the Wednesday screening. Details are provided in the Mayworks program, click here for more.    

rabble.ca is the media sponsor of this year’s Mayworks Festival, and we had the opportunity to interview Dave DeSario, the producer of A Day’s Work.  During the interview, one of the most fascinating aspects was how the people who made and produced this film link to movement building. If you are a precarious or temp worker or if you work with organizing temporary workers, come out to listen to what temp workers go through at work, and join the movement for change. 

What is the A Day’s Work film project about?

Temp workers risk life and limb for a paycheque. There is an epidemic of injury and death on the job that we’ve been blind to and the film is really there to open people’s eyes. For me, I was a temp worker many times over, not unlike the young man who is the subject of the film, a young man named Day Davis, who was 21 years old when he was killed 90 minutes into the first shift that he ever worked in his life. We used that case and then connect it along with some research to this hidden epidemic which has been going on for temp and precarious workers.

Temp workers don’t have a voice at the workplace and they generally don’t have a voice in the legislative process or in their community.  I hope that this film raises awareness of their conditions and gives workers the opportunity to be heard. 

This particular case was focused on by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the United States and was used to get the attention of the staffing industry for some of the abuses which were going on. The film itself is completely independently produced but we’ve had many partners along the way and they have been groups like the Worker’s Action Centre and the Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty in Toronto and organizations like Mayworks. Together we use the film as a way to get attention for local issues and action. We screen the film, and we bring out workers, and we bring out local advocates and we bring out their stories, connecting to the film, to call attention to what is going on in communities. 

What experiences have you heard shared by workers who attend the screenings?

This is approximately the 100th screening of the film. It is kind of like a Groundhog Day experience. At many screenings to date, temp workers have said: “I work just like Day did in the film, I go inside machines like that all the time.” They come out and say, “I was hurt at work and my employer told me, when I went to the hospital, to say it happened at home and not work,” or “I was hurt at work but I was scared to say something because I might lose my job.” 

The stories at each screening are similar, and each time they are horrifying. Not only are temp workers more likely to be injured on the job, but they are less likely to report those injuries because they are scared they will lose those jobs. It is precarious work and they tend to stay quiet out of fear of losing their jobs altogether. The more I screen this film, I feel mixed emotions. On the one hand I am inspired by the people who come out to tell their stories, but I am frustrated by the fact that we have these problems in community after community in city after city, but we lack the large scale effort to do something about it.

Right now the issues of temp work and occupational safety are mainly being handled by activist groups and involved communities. We do have a great movement going on in Toronto at the Worker’s Action Centre and the Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP). In the U.S., we have movements in cities like Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. It is all these different communities coming up against the same problems and trying to find a way to solve them on their own. In some sense, this film is helping to move along these organizing efforts which are already in place. However, we find there are a lot of the same issues over and over again for these workers, both in the U.S. and in Canada.

What are the demands of the movement for temporary workers rights?

The demands of temp workers vary from place to place. Generally, as in Toronto, people are standing for basic human rights. Workers are demanding that they have safe and healthy work places. Workplaces from which they can come home in the same condition as when they reported to work. In some cases they are asking for sick days or living wages instead of just the minimum wage. These aren’t extraordinary asks, they are some of the most basic protections in the workplace for individuals and for families. When we talk about a living wage and sick days and safe workplaces, these are rights that every hard working person should have. However, the temp industry really denies people, all across Canada and across the U.S., these rights.  

The U.S. and Canada are really unique in the developed world in that no one else really ignores the temp work and precarious work as much as we do. So we are behind the rest of the developed world. The rest of the world has models for us to follow for regulating temp work and improving conditions for workers who are in precarious situations. In some cases countries ensure equal pay for equal work, so temp workers doing the same exact work as permanent workers next to them make the same wages. Some countries ban temp workers from working in construction or high hazard industries where we know they have an even greater risk of being injured on the job. There is blueprint to help solve many of these problems laid out in advanced and in other countries. Here in the U.S. and in Canada we are so far behind that we are asking for basic human rights and dignity in the workplace.

What is the place of this film in helping to address issues of precarious work?

We use the film to connect issues of the film to local action. This is exactly what is going to be going on at Mayworks by having the Workers Action Centre and the Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP) present there. While in the film we look at one specific case of a temp worker killed on the job, we are really using it to bring out people who are working in precarious jobs, who want a change, who want to organize. We are inviting them to come out, we are connecting them with the groups that are helping to build this movement. The film has been extraordinarily useful in becoming a part of existing campaigns.

We want people who want to be involved and who want to share their stories and who want to make working conditions better for themselves, their coworkers, and their families and their communities. We want these people to come out to come out to these screenings because we are not just watching a movie, we are trying to build a movement with this film. 

Screenings: Friday April 28, 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., doors Open at 6:30pm Carlton Cinema Auditorium 9, 20 Carlton St and Wednesday May 3, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., Driftwood Community Centre Room 6, 4401 Jane St. Dinner, childcare and TTC tokens provided at the Wednesday screening.

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Maya Bhullar

Maya Bhullar has over 15 years of professional experience in such diverse areas as migration, labour, urban planning and community mobilization. She has a particular interest in grassroots engagement,...