Falls Church resident Greg Cox has proposed a center for day laborers who congregate on the 1100 block of W. Broad Street in between the Staples and U-Haul that are on opposite sides of the street.
Cox said that he has observed as many as 14 or 15 day laborers – people who often do home improvement or contract work as temporary employees – waiting around on that block of Falls Church’s main strip, looking for someone in need of hired hands.
“I think [Falls Church] needs it for a couple of reasons. There is the homeowner-business perspective. The day laborers, for anyone who has driven by, there are reasonably large numbers at the U-Haul and Staples…and they intimidate or frighten some people and they are a distraction. So that’s from one end of the spectrum,” Cox said.
“I don’t know the day laborers personally. I’m just now becoming familiar with them, but they are decent, reasonable people and they are trying to make an honest living and it’s hard for them and I would like to make life easier, better and improved for them. So that approaches it from the other direction.”
In order to help mitigate these problems and try to provide a safer, more reliable alternative for the day laborers, Cox wants to start a nonprofit day labor center located in or near the 1100 block of W. Broad Street.
He said that he prefers a nonprofit rather than a city-backed day labor center in an attempt to keep the center apolitical.
In 2007, the Town of Herndon shut down its day labor center, which was only open for 21 months, amid backlash from Herndon residents, many of whom were resentful of the center and said the center was abetting illegal immigration. The gross majority of those seeking day labor work are undocumented Latino immigrants.
Cox hosted a meeting to test his idea for a day labor center at the Falls Church Community Center on Tuesday, July 12, which was attended by seven people, including Falls Church city councilmember Marybeth Connelly and an officer with the Falls Church Police Department.
Also in attendance was Alice Foltz, chairman of the board of directors for the Centreville Labor Resource Center, which has been successfully operating since 2011.
Some of the problems that Cox and other supporters of the burgeoning concept hope to solve are potential threats to public safety posed by the day laborers congregating near a busy street, complaints by businesses in the area of the day laborers loitering in front of and around the businesses and wage theft issues.
At the meeting Cox expressed concern about the day laborers, who usually wait for business on the north side of W. Broad Street where there is a brick wall to sit on and trees to provide shade in front of the Staples, running across the busy corridor when they see potential clients on the south side of W. Broad Street where the U-Haul is located.
He said that from his observations the day laborers get the majority of their work from U-Haul customers.
The officer present at the meeting said that while the Falls Church Police Department has received several calls for service in 2014 and 2015 in the area where the day laborers congregate, they have only received one call for service in 2016. He said that increased police presence in the area may have something to do with the decrease in calls for service. But the most pressing issue raised at the meeting seemed to be that of wage theft, which is when employers don’t compensate workers for their labor.
Several people at the meeting hadn’t heard what wage theft was, but Foltz said that it is a pervasive problem in Centreville for the laborers and employers who don’t use the Centreville Labor Resource Center.
She said that there haven’t been any instances of wage theft for workers and employers who use the Centreville Labor Resource Center, but that approximately $89,000 of wages haven’t been paid out to 20 day laborers who have gotten work outside of the center in the last nine months. This is a problem that is being tackled by the Centreville Immigration Forum, of which the Centreville Labor Resource Center is a part, which is helping the laborers take their claims to small claims court.
The oversight leading to a lack of wage theft from day laborers who use the Centreville center is just one way that a day labor center could benefit day laborers in Falls Church. Another way is that it could protect homeowners who hire day laborers through the center from theft. Cox said that the Falls Church center would follow the model of the Centreville center by holding the day laborers to a code of conduct and penalizing anyone who violates the code.
“I think it could work It could be a good idea,” said one of the day laborers who didn’t want to be identified because he is an undocumented immigrant. “We could be more organized and maybe it would be easier to find work.”
Foltz said that the laborers in the Centreville center tend to self-select based on those who want to follow the code of conduct and cooperate with the center’s first come-first serve lottery for assigning laborers to jobs everyday. She said that the laborers at the Centreville center created the code of conduct themselves.
It took the Centreville Labor Resource Center four years to open after its unofficial inception, but Cox has a much more aggressive timeline for creating a day labor center in Falls Church. He wants to formally become a 501(c)3 by September 2016, find a place for the center by February 2017, hire staff and volunteers in March and April 2017 and open the center in June 2017.
Cox said that he has already reached out to several churches and one synagogue in the area and several of the businesses in the area. He said that his next step is to start a dialogue with the day laborers in Falls Church and he needs a volunteer who speaks Spanish in order to do that.
“I think my experience with [the Centreville] project has been wonderful. I have learned so much and benefitted so much from working with both the volunteers and the day laborers,” Foltz said.
“One of the real big plusses of doing this work has been that we have about a 100 volunteers who get to know the day laborers, so when they go to the grocery store or if they are out on the street they see people they know because they’ve gotten to know them. And that means the workers themselves are not nameless and faceless anymore. They are seen as human beings and that in itself I think creates a stronger, healthier community.”