Hiring Up at Day Labor Center

Hiring Up at Day Labor Center

Some officials are saying its more than just good weather

The Official Workers Center set dual records in the first two weeks of April as the average number and rate of workers hired daily has benefited from not just warming temperatures, but increased public knowledge and convenience, according to center officials.

In the month of March, the center recorded a daily average of 115 workers present with 26.9 percent, or 31 people, finding jobs with an average of 16 employers, according to center statistics. In the first two weeks of April, the center reported an average of 121 workers present, with 40.4 percent, or 49, finding work with 24 employers per day.

"This is definitely as much business as we have ever seen," said Bill Threlkeld, director of Project Hope & Harmony, the coalition group that manages the site.

"It's mostly the weather, but there may be other issues," Threlkeld said. "It's been around a little longer, there is more advertising through word of mouth."

Martín Rios, a project manager for the center and a permanent U.S. citizen who immigrated from Peru six years ago said that recently rising temperatures is just one part of the increased success of the site.

"I believe there's more reasons [for the increase in hiring]," said Rios. "The first is the weather, but now there are more people who have had the opportunity to know the site."

PEOPLE WHO HAVE been intimidated before at the prospect of hiring temporary day laborers from a street corner are coming to the center for the organization and safety that it offers, according to Rios.

"I've heard many testimonials from people who told me that they were afraid [to hire workers informally]," Rios said. "They talk to 10 to 20 guys who gather around their car at the same time ... and they have to choose these people from their car window."

"This area is very safe," Rios said, adding that both potential employers as well as employees benefit from the safety and organization that it offers.

"We don't encourage [laborers soliciting work informally]," he said. "This center is here to help these workers find jobs, and for many, this will be the only place where they can get a job opportunity."

Laborers who frequent the center for assistance in finding jobs say that they have seen an increase in activity at the site in recent months.

"The number of workers are increasing, the number of employers are increasing," said Luis Herrera, a registered day laborer at the site and resident of Herndon. "It's a strong option for both workers who need work and people who need workers."

Rios noted that many workers who come to the center find more permanent employment within a matter of a couple months.

"The people who come to the site, they can try out the workers, see if they like them and then they hire them full-time," Rios said.

ALTHOUGH THERE ARE no restrictions on who can come to find employment opportunities or workers at the site, Threlkeld doesn't predict that the site will increase in size to be anything more than a local resource for temporary day laborers.

"I don't think that the site is going to change that much with additional employers and workers [coming from further away]," Threlkeld said, noting that they are only permitted to allow 150 workers at any given time on the property. "We'll hit a plateau here."

"Day labor is pretty much a local thing ... people aren't willing to go too far out of their way to get this labor," he said.

According to the center's most recent statistics which run through Feb. 20, 32 percent of employers listed addresses in Herndon; 14 percent listed Sterling; 11 percent listed Ashburn; 11 percent listed Reston; with single digit figures being listed for Chantilly, Fairfax, Leesburg, Washington D.C. and other parts of Northern Virginia.

THE CENTER, which is managed by Project Hope & Harmony primarily with the assistance of a funding from Fairfax County for day labor strategy management, has been a lightning rod of criticism since its inception last December.

Some residents and local town council candidates have said that the site, which does not require checking potential employees for legal U.S. work permits, should not be utilizing public funds for a service that could assist non-U.S. residents in violating federal labor laws.

As a result, the site center garnered the attention of several local and national groups strongly opposed to undocumented aliens working in the United States.

Threlkeld said that the increased numbers of hired workers at the site is proof that the center has not been slowed by these protests, and said the site has been used as a location for several different types of employees to find work.

"We've had people from all over come and get jobs ... we've had students come and find jobs on spring break," Threlkeld said. "It's definitely open to anyone who wants to get a job, just in our case most of the people who attend and participate in the center are Hispanic migrants."

"This is a strong opportunity for all people to come and find work," said José Martinez, a resident of Herndon and a registered day laborer for hire at the center. "This is not just for Hispanic people. This is for Americans or anyone else from all over the world who wants to find work."

"Nobody is rejected here."