June 5, 2006


Who's on the roof: Immigrant labor shapes a summer industry (Jeff Horwich, June 4, 2006, Minnesota Public Radio)

State employment statistics hint at a significant shift in the residential roofing industry. Between the summer of 2000 and the summer of 2005, the number of people in the overall Minnesota residential construction industry rose 30 percent. At the same time, the number formally employed by residential roofing contractors in the state dropped by 34 percent -- and it's not because Minnesotans have stopped having work done on their roofs.

Roofing supply companies, for example, say business is great and there's no shortage of roofers, despite the statistical decline in roofing jobs. "It almost has seemed historically in the last 10 years there's a bottomless pit of migrant labor that's available," says Earl Ward, general manager at Roof Depot in Minneapolis.

Ward says of the 300 contractors he supplies, maybe five operate like Steve Hackbarth. Nowadays it's the informal network of migrant roofing crews that makes the industry go.

"Your typical contractor would sell a job and then call up 'Pedro's Roofing,' or whatever, and get ahold of minority labor crews, predominantly Mexicans," Ward says. "And for a price per square [foot] they would just do the job for him. And with that in mind he doesn't have employees, he doesn't have to worry about workers' compensation issues or any of those. He just pays a guy to do it for him."

Ward and others in the Minnesota residential roofing industry peg the labor shift at a very specific point: the summer of 1998. When massive hail storms hit the upper Midwest, regional roofing companies and crews couldn't meet the demand. So-called "storm chaser" roofing companies came to town and brought their Mexican crews with them; regional companies also needed the extra labor.

"After 1998, it seemed that within about a two-year period it turned 180 (degrees) from all Americans doing the roofing to all Mexicans. It happened that quick," Ward says, adding that Mexican crews "are much more efficient, they're easier to find, and in a lot of respects they do a better job."

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 5, 2006 3:48 PM

None of this is as simple as the article and the above comment make out


We should all be shocked, shocked, to see that illegals are cheaper than employees.

And please stop the name-calling. I think Mexicans are great--Roman Catholics who like guns--what's not to like?

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 5, 2006 6:17 PM

Making an average of $50k in 1999.....

Posted by: Sandy P at June 5, 2006 8:47 PM

Wonder how many of those "self-employed" illegals ever filled out a Form SE or Schedule C to go with their 1040. You'd be cheaper too if you didn't bother to pay taxes. (And yes, I'd not bother to file either, but all my employers insist on withholding about 25% of my pay and then there was that verification paperwork when I start the jobs, too.)

And isn't one of the reasons for banning tobacco the unnecessary tax burden user impose on taxpayers?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 5, 2006 8:58 PM

And I betcha those illegals don't follow other regulations, like those for worker safety, proper waste disposal, vehicle inspections and licensing requirements, either. Get rid of all that overhead, and there's something wrong if you aren't a whole lot cheaper than the competition.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 5, 2006 9:04 PM

Get rid of the natives and there's something wrong if the quality of the work isn't improved.

Posted by: oj at June 5, 2006 10:56 PM


Every illegal I've worked with--in five states--paid his taxes.

Posted by: oj at June 5, 2006 10:57 PM