Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won't Do

by Gabriel Thompson

Paperback, 2011


What is it like to do the back-breaking work of immigrants? To find out, Gabriel Thompson spent a year working alongside Latino immigrants, who initially thought he was either crazy or an undercover immigration agent. He stooped over lettuce fields in Arizona, and worked the graveyard shift at a chicken slaughterhouse in rural Alabama. He dodged taxis -- not always successfully -- as a bicycle delivery "boy" for an upscale Manhattan restaurant, and was fired from a flower shop by a boss who, he quickly realized, was nuts. As one coworker explained, "These jobs make you old quick." Back spasms occasionally keep Thompson in bed, where he suffers recurring nightmares involving iceberg lettuce and chicken carcasses. Combining personal narrative with investigative reporting, Thompson shines a bright light on the underside of the American economy, exposing harsh working conditions, union busting, and lax government enforcement -- while telling the stories of workers, undocumented immigrants, and desperate US citizens alike, forced to live with chronic pain in the pursuit of 8 an hour.… (more)



Call number




Bold Type Books (2011), Edition: Illustrated, 336 pages


User reviews

LibraryThing member charlierb3
About: Thompson works jobs normally held by immigrants. He picks lettuce, works in a poultry plant and delivers food via bike

Pros: Well written, good premise.

Cons: His "sum-up" at the end and call for more light to be shed on normally ignored workers is a bit skimpy.

Grade: B
LibraryThing member DanieXJ
It's a good book. I've never read Nickled and Dimed, but this isn't really the same book as that anyway. In Nickled and Dimed the author wanted to try and live on minimum wage. This is more about the jobs than the money, although as with all life these days, money is always present in the book as
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He gets four jobs, three of them for approximately two months. Lettuce cutter (I didn't know that you didn't pick it, but cut it, although now it does make sense that you have to cut it). Chicken plant worker, florist lackey for a couple of days and a restaurant bike delivery boy.

I picked up the book to read because of the chicken plant section. But, it wasn't the chicken planet in Alabama that was the most disturbing of the workplaces in the book. (Although none of them were great by any means of the imagination) The worst was the florist shop in New York. I've never been well acquainted with the cut flower business. The flowers I know most about are the ones in pots and in the ground. But, the fact that in such a city as New York there could be such horrendous working conditions is depressing. Everyone is a human, no matter if they're breaking the law (i.e. illegal immigrants) or not, and should be treated like humans and not animals.

It was an interesting book and a thought provoking one too.
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LibraryThing member SandraDoran
After reading Gabriel Thompson, you will never eat a salad again without an acute consciousness of what it took for you to enjoy the luxury. This opened a whole new door for me, connecting me with the unseen hands that pick my fruits and vegetables, plunge their hands into ice-water all day long to
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retrieve the raw pieces of chicken that come to me in restaurants, breaded and crisp. A disturbing and crucial piece of literature.
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LibraryThing member Meggo
What does it mean to work in fields predominantly staffed by either illegal or recent immigrants? In some cases, exploitation, in others, discrimination, in others, abuse, and in some, respect and dignity. None of the jobs investigated by Thompson were lucrative, and some were illegally low paying
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-- but considered in terms of purchasing power in Mexico or Guatamala, where many of these workers had family, these jobs represented opportunity for a better life. A well-written and interesting first person story of working beside immigrants , if only for a brief time.
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LibraryThing member Sullywriter
Thompspon offers a revealing look into the working lives and conditions of immigrant labor in the United States. In the immersion journalism style of such authors as Barbara Ehrenreich, Thompson goes undercover for one year, working in several different industries that rely on undocumented workers
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and describes the types of work often performed by these workers with insight on how industries are been able to exploit them.
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LibraryThing member jasoncomely
Easily one of the best books I've read so far this year, but also one of the most disturbing.


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Original publication date



1568586388 / 9781568586380
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