Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: The Complex Problem of Day Laborers in Falls Church

By Greg Cox

Most Falls Church residents have observed groups of day laborers outside the U-Haul facility on Broad Street and across the street at the Staples shopping center. Undoubtedly there are different reactions to this, ranging from sympathy to anger. Seeking a solution that is responsive to multiple viewpoints, I offer an approach that addresses the broad range of concerns: an organized non-profit, non-government Day Labor Center. It can work – one has operated effectively in Centreville for five years now. But making it work is not assured as the failed effort 10 years ago in Herndon demonstrated.

I propose creating a Day Labor Center in Falls Church, with the following goals:

• Reduce, and possibly eliminate, the groups of men that loiter around U-Haul and Staples seeking work, by offering them a better alternative.

• Obtain better opportunities for day laborers; I begrudge nobody for being born, being poor, and seeking work.

• Provide a comfortable off-the-street location where laborers can wait for daily job opportunities.

• Provide a hassle-free way for citizens of Falls Church to inquire about hiring day laborers, and an easy mechanism for them to hire them if they choose.

• Support the Center entirely through voluntary donations.

• Ensure that 100 percent of the cost of hiring a day laborer goes to the laborer, with no administrative fee.

• Keep the operation apolitical. I do not seek politically motivated endorsement; likewise, I hope not to receive politically motivated opposition.
Administratively, the first step in pursuing this concept is to establish a non-profit (501(c)3) organization for the purpose, or finding an existing organization under which it could be done. Socially, however, the first step is to gauge the degree of acceptance of the Falls Church community, and that is the purpose for this article.

I have used the word “I” in this discussion, because I intend to do much of the legwork to make it happen, if local citizens support it. I will do it without monetary compensation as my “post-retirement career.” (In the 1990s I was Scoutmaster of a Boy Scout Troop in Falls Church and community service still appeals to me.) That does not, however, imply that the center could be run at no cost. There almost certainly would be a full-time (paid) center director, and there would also be operating and capital costs (e.g., facility rent and office equipment). Having observed and discussed this with the Centreville Center, I have a basic understanding of the funding that is required.

So, where would the center be located? I don’t yet know. Identifying an affordable location that is acceptable to everyone – citizens, workers, and employers – would be one of the challenges. That should be part of a community discussion.

Why did such an endeavor fail in Herndon? The root cause was that it depended primarily on township (i.e., taxpayer) funding. I understand that many residents would oppose a center under those conditions. However, the Centreville Center is supported through individual, corporate, faith-community, and charitable foundation donations – not the taxpayers.

Has the day laborer loitering in Centreville disappeared? No, although it is reduced. Nonetheless, day laborers still loiter along the street, but as reported in a Washington Post article last year (February, 16 2015), that is caused mostly by supply and demand. If workers have a better chance of getting a job by loitering at the curb, that’s where they’ll hang out. My perspective is that Falls Church citizens have a say in the supply and demand dynamics. Local citizens (and 65 percent of the Centreville Center employers are homeowners) could preferentially use the Falls Church Day Labor Center; and when they hire contractors, they could request that any contractor-supplied day laborers come from the center.

Would a successful Day Labor Center in Falls Church encourage more immigrants seeking work to come here? Maybe, but I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that it would. It is intuitive that if there were more demand for day laborers than the current supply of workers, new workers would come here. But that’s true whether there is a Day Labor Center, or just the current U-Haul/Staples arrangement. My belief is that this, too, is within the control of the Falls Church citizenry. Ultimately, it would be up to citizens (and contractors that they use): to hire day laborers or not, and if they hire them, do it from the Day Labor Center or from U-Haul/Staples.

To continue this discussion, I will arrange an open meeting in the near future at the Falls Church Community Center to discuss this concept further and answer questions. Please watch for notice of the meeting, then come, ask your questions, and share your thoughts. In the meantime, you may contact me at daylabor22046@gmail.com.


Greg Cox has been a Falls Church homeowner since 1989.