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Labor Site Funding in Jeopardy

Official talks between Herndon, Fairfax County may not happen after silence from council.

The possibility of Fairfax County officials reinstating primary funding for the day labor site is growing dim and day labor organizers are drawing contingency plans for a site shutdown, according to town, county and labor site officials.

Scheduling talks for a meeting between town and county officials to discuss the potential of continuing funding for the current site have ground to a halt after council members and the mayor have remained silent on the site’s future, according to Fairfax County supervisor Joan DuBois (R-Dranesville).

"I was a little upset when [Town Council members] didn’t come out publicly to say they support" meeting with county officials to discuss reinstating the funds, DuBois said on Monday. "If they want to talk about the county helping out the town with this site, they all need to speak in a unified voice and end the silence that has been going on since this issue began."

THAT SILENCE was demonstrated when a motion from council member Harlon Reece during an Aug. 15 hearing to vote on whether the town would meet publicly with the county failed to receive a second vote of support, DuBois added.

"At this point, I’m not sure there will be a meeting," she said.

The growing public spat between DuBois and Herndon Vice Mayor Dennis Husch over the renewal of county funding for the day labor site has strained town and county relations and put the future of the Herndon Official Workers Center in jeopardy, Reece said.

"At first I saw this as a personal feud between the vice mayor and supervisor DuBois," Reece said. "But it has appeared that the silence that has been coming from the council has signified compliance" in Husch’s statements attacking the county.

Several of Husch’s public statements decrying the county funding approval resulted in its termination earlier this month, according to Fairfax County officials. The funding termination has put in jeopardy town plans for a smooth transition from site operator Reston Interfaith, which does not check user residency status, and a new manager that would perform worker checks.

Herndon resident Dennis "Butch" Baughan, who submitted a proposal last month has been given 60 days to find appropriate funding for the site, according to town officials.

Having a smooth transition period between operators has been labeled by Herndon officials as key to the town’s efforts to retain a local ordinance that forbids informal street work solicitations as constitutional. Day labor advocates have said that a site that is not open to everyone would also force the ordinance to be ruled unconstitutional.

MAYOR Steve DeBenedittis said that he is "hopeful" that a meeting with county officials will still occur, but that the future of a smooth transition from Reston Interfaith to a new operator is not hinged on county funding.

"I think that the majority of the council supports a smooth transition and we would like to work with the county to facilitate that," he said. "But we are prepared to do what it takes to make sure that informal day labor gathering sites do not reappear in town" in the absence of a Reston Interfaith-run site.

While the town has not considered directly funding Reston Interfaith, the possibility of using Herndon town employees to staff the site on an interim basis has been discussed, according to DeBenedittis.

Those employees would be directed to check for work authorization status, he added.

DAY LABOR ORGANIZERS hope for a smooth transition for the town, but if county funding cannot be renewed and the council refuses to give day labor site operators a set window of time before they are removed, the site cannot continue to operate as it has, according to Reston Interfaith CEO Kerrie Wilson.

"We have [labor site] staff members who are already out and looking for other jobs and we’ve had workers who are pulling up stakes and moving back to the streets," Wilson said. "We want to work with the town to mitigate those issues of workers on the streets that we were contracted for in the first place … but not having a set date is making it difficult for us to do that."

A period of only a few months of operation cannot work for the day labor site, especially considering a sudden mid-winter shutdown could put dozens of workers out of a job at the height of the cold, slow work season, she said. The council’s removal of the site operators’ rights to distribute food, clothing and other donations to the workers has also damaged their ability to attract them from the streets into the site, Wilson added.

Day labor worker specialists from Reston Interfaith are already developing plans to assist Herndon area day workers in the event that "acceptable" conditions cannot be worked out that will allow the group to operate the site efficiently and properly.

"We would be a better service to the community if we can have people out there reminding the workers who would return to the streets what they are and are not able to do," Wilson said, saying that they would provide information about trespassing and other laws. "Certainly the police will have their hands full, and we will try our best to work with them and the workers."