Christian Gomez lines up at Foss Park at 5:30 a.m. everyday to compete with dozens of other men for an $8 an hour or less job.
The hazards are many: he's gone unpaid after an eight-hour workday and he contracted lead poisoning at one work site.
Now, the stories of Gomez and the laborers who gather at Foss Park each morning has inspired a play, "They Don't Tell You Anything" written and produced by Meryl Becker, which premiered at the Elizabeth Peabody House on Friday.
The play touches on a world that can be seen everyday at Foss Park - scores of workers lining up to be exploited by contractors - but is often invisible and ignored.
One unionized painter at Friday's performance, preferring to go unnamed, said "It's important to raise this issue because many of the painters and workers don't know about the laws that protect them."
The play referenced new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that mandate specific certification for any person or contractor working to apply or remove lead paint.
State Senator Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville, attended Friday's performance and said, "Most people don't usually think about the dangers of lead poisoning in the context of work ... generally they think of risks to their children."
In the play, Gomez narrates and recounts his experiences as a day laborer through the point where he began suffering from intense headaches and digestion problems. He told the audience that "When I approached MassCOSH they told me that the symptoms may be work related. I went to the doctor and they diagnosed me with lead poisoning." Representatives from MassCOSH further informed him that his employers were required to provide him with proper equipment by law.
In addition to precarious work conditions and low pay, the laborers potentially expose their families to high levels of lead through dust that accumulates on their clothing and hands. Becker's play works to portray such dangers to the community at large.
Tony Hernandez, an organizer for a nation-wide painter's union with 23 years of experience in the industry, said, "Contractors come and pick them up on Monday morning and tell them they're hired for five days. Subsequently, they only show up for four days to avoid having to pay them on Friday. They're exploiting the undocumented workers."
Hernandez estimated that "Out of the non-union contractors about 80 percent use day laborers in their workforce while only about 20 percent are ethical and follow the EPA regulations." He cited American Dream Rights Custom House Builders as one of the few contractors that protects their employees adequately.
Skip Miller, the owner of American Dream Builders said adhering to the regulations has "a direct impact on costs" and "that's why you have to educate consumers about the precautionary measures that each contractor is taking and the differences between hiring an ethical contractor and one who abuses day laborers." Consumer choice was widely cited throughout the play as a key component to any solution.
Warren Goldstein-Gelb, director of the Welcome Project - one of the play's producers, said, "People look at Foss Park and only think of the fact that people may or may not be undocumented."
The play added a new dimension to the plight of undocumented immigrants in Somerville, he said.
"We need the same kind of high standards for people who are documented and not," he said. "Documented or not, hopefully people here deserve not to be poisoned."
Goldstein-Gelb felt that "Somerville as a whole is a pretty welcoming city." However, he said, aldermen have not adopted a pledge to treat all immigrants, regardless of status, with the same human dignity.
Goldstein-Gelb said, "There are people in Somerville, like everywhere, that are not willing to afford the same human value to undocumented immigrants."