What Makes a Site Successful?

What Makes a Site Successful?

Day Labor Research Institute professionals offer advice to running a successful day-labor site.

Through the course of hearing public comment regarding an application to create a regulated day-labor site in town, residents and public officials have questioned whether successful regulated day-labor sites exist in the country.

Because of a lack of statistics regarding successful sites, many residents are concerned that Project Hope and Harmony will not be able to ensure the safety of neighboring residences if approved.

Lynn Svensson, director at Day Labor Research Institute, said the key to running a successful site is community involvement from everyone, including the day workers.

"We have found that day laborers are able to construct a worker-designed day labor program that will satisfy the day laborers, local businesses, employers, community, local government and police as long as they have the right tools," said Svensson in an e-mail interview. "Day laborers are, after all, the ones most affected by bad or good program decisions. Bad decisions leave them without work and feeling impotent to influence the program."

ESTABLISHED IN 1997, the Day Labor Research Institute conducts academic research into topics related to day laborers. The institute has organized and developed day labor programs in California and Texas, and has recently done studies and consultations in Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta and locally in Fairfax and Arlington counties.

The institute is comprised of police officers experienced in day labor and community policing solutions and Latino and Latin American Indian day laborers who are activists and organizers. Researchers and organizers with union backgrounds and years of experience with undocumented workers and lawyers experienced with day labor law and day labor rights are also involved, said Svensson.

There are successful day labor site programs in Glendale, Calif., and Austin, Texas as well as other semi-successful programs in other areas, said Svensson.

"Long term research indicates that what day laborers want is work," said Svensson. "Day laborers want to support themselves and their families. They do not want charity — they want to work."

Joel Mills, Project Hope and Harmony executive council member, said this is the same response Project Hope and Harmony has received from Herndon's day labor population.

"We meet with them regularly to work on a proposed code of conduct [for a the proposed site]," said Mills. "They're excited about the possibility of having a potential site. They would like to demonstrate to the community that they're going to be a part of the solution too."

Because the men are aware their compliance with the rules will ensure the success of the site, they have no choice but to follow the rules if they want a regulated site to function in town, said Jose Hernandez, Herndon day worker.

"Trespassing will not be a problem," said the El Salvadorian native. "If we respect the law and the people's property it won't be a problem. It's a logical thing to use the sidewalks."

BECAUSE THE DAY labor phenomenon is relatively new to the Virginia area, efforts to understand the population have been slim, said Svensson.

Those wanting to find a solution that includes removing day workers from their neighborhoods tend to have information that is anecdotal, inaccurate, incomplete or stereotypical, according to Svensson. Because there is a lack of accurate information available, the same has been done by people fighting for the rights of day workers.

One major stereotype is that all day workers are "illegal aliens," said Svensson.

"We have found day labor corners where all the day laborers have legal papers," said Svensson. "It is impossible to look at a group of day laborers and discern which have papers and which don’t."

There are times where documented immigrants have found themselves between jobs and use the day labor site because it is a good way to find permanent work, said Svensson.

To combat misconceptions, the Day Labor Research Institute has tried to gather accurate information through ethnographic analysis, ethno-organizing, traditional surveys and interviews, statistical analysis, group interviews, oral histories and historical and forensic detective work. The institute also interviews people who interact with the day workers on a regular basis including employers, police, neighbors and businesses.

"Allowing day laborers to make all the rules, decisions, and program policies makes sense," said Svensson. "This puts the solution entirely in the hands of the day laborers — the day laborers themselves define the problem, decide on a solution, and decide how to implement and fund the solution."

To run a successful program the workers themselves have to "buy into" the program, said Svensson. Ordinances, laws, force and outreach or incentives will not convince workers to leave the street and participate in a program if they do not want to, said Svensson.

"Day laborers who feel that they own their own program are less likely to allow abuses, and more likely to work to make necessary changes, rather than just putting up with a poorly run program," said Svensson.

Svensson also warned against creating a day worker center without doing proper studies and analysis.

"The decision to open a day labor center should be made only after careful research of that community’s particular situation," said Svensson. "Including, the number of day laborers, their current level of work in the street, the available funding, the level of complaints being generated, and most important, the desires of the day laborers themselves."

DURING A STAFF REPORT before the Planning Commission, Lisa Gilleran, senior planner for the town, gave statistics regarding the number of workers on site each day and the type of cars picking up workers. Town staff and members from Project Hope and Harmony have researched the site, keeping count of the number of men on or around the 7-Eleven location each hour waiting for work.

The town has also created a Public Response Plan, that details four specific ways the town can help ensure the success of a regulated site. The proposal calls on the department of community development, Herndon Police, neighborhood resources, public information, department of public works employees and other town staff to execute the plan.

Project Hope and Harmony members have also held almost weekly meetings with the day workers, answering questions and speaking with them about what needs to be done on their part to ensure the site's success if approved, according to Mills. Two Reston Interfaith employees — Amy Langrehr and Jenny Albers — are on site everyday with the men, and update them on the latest developments with the proposal. The women discuss the proper pedestrian routes to take to the proposed site if approved, and also answer their questions regarding community concerns and site operations.

CONVERSATIONS WITH men waiting for work at the 7-Eleven at the corner of Alabama Drive and Elden Street have shown support for a regulated site.

Because the men compete for work on a daily basis — sometimes bumping elbows and pushing each other out of the way to get to an employer first — they welcome the opportunity to have an equal chance at employment.

"It is a great happiness," said Antonio Ruperto through translation, about a regulated site being approved. "We will be in a fixed place where we won't be run out."

Ruperto, a native of Honduras, has lived in Herndon for almost four years, and found work for the last three years at the 7-Eleven. He said because of the increase in men coming to the site over the last few years, it is becoming more difficult to find work.

If a regulated site is approved and operated as proposed, the men will use the site and obey the rules, said Ruperto.

"There is no other area to go in town," he said. "If you don't work, you still have to pay for rent and food."