Business & Economy

No smartphone, no problem: SoCal laborers find jobs via text

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At a U-Haul parking lot in Pasadena, a group of men waits for work.

"We'll wait all day with the hope that someone will pick us up," says Ilario Gonzalez, as he and his friends watch for cars that might slow down. 

They're often hired to do hard labor, like moving furniture or construction work, at low wages. But nothing is certain. Sometimes they're only hired two days a week. It's a similar story for those who wait for work in Home Depot parking lots or search for jobs through temp agencies.

Now a Santa Monica tech entrepreneur has developed a text messaging platform that he says can help these men find work much more easily.

Launched a year ago, the Work Today tool electronically connects would-be laborers with employers, says founder Joe Nigro.

He developed his product as a texting tool because his research with day workers taught him that "a lot of these folks don't want to download another app," says Nigro. "They don't want to have to figure out how to use it. And a lot of these folks may not have a smartphone."

The platform only requires workers to use the internet once, when they create a free profile on the company's website, where they include their skills, location, cell phone number and proof of identity (some beef up their profiles by including a background check).

Employers post jobs, also for free. Then each morning, Work Today plays matchmaker, sending thousands of texts about short-term jobs to registered workers.

Laborers send a text if they're available, which is sent to employers. The employers then call or text the people they want to hire. Employers pay the workers through the platform; those who secure jobs through Work Today earn an average of $14.50 an hour, says Nigro.

Workers who receive multiple offers can choose the best one, he says. 

"At the end of the day, what we're really trying to do is democratize this labor market," says Nigro. "We're trying to provide you all the intel as a business, to show you who you'll be bringing on board, just like were trying to show the worker high quality jobs on a daily basis for a really great wage."

Employers pay Work Today a fee that is 20 percent of whatever they paid an employee, he says. The firm's website says the fee covers the costs of operating the platform, as well as its booking, insurance and payroll costs.

Work Today has a total of 50,000 registered users, with about 10,000 in the L.A. area, says Nigro, who claims his product has facilitated more than 160,000 temp job hires in its first year.