The Town of Herndon has received two proposals for a new day labor site that would replace the current Herndon Official Workers Center and check workers’ legal residency status, according to town officials.
The proposals, which came as a result of an official town request for a new site operator, were the first alternative visions for a day labor operator since Herndon’s mayor and Town Council initiated the exploratory process earlier this year. The proposal deadline was June 22.
Town staff refused to provide information about the identities of those who turned in proposals.
The request for proposals includes a commitment of as much as $17,000 in town funds to renovate a section of the former police facility at 1481 Sterling Road, where the new site would be based. Approximately $8,000 of that money would be repaid to the town in lieu of rent over the course of an operator’s lease.
The renovation agreement was added by officials as an incentive to attract more operators after an original request for proposals came back unsuccessfully in January. Those potential operators had expressed a view that a site that met Herndon’s criteria — including the necessity to check for work authorization status — would not be financially viable.
The proposals will be evaluated in the coming weeks by a committee of town staff members to determine if they meet criteria before they make a suggestion to the Town Council, according to town public information officer Anne Curtis.
ONE OF THE PROPOSALS was made by long time Herndon resident and retired Fairfax County Public Schools vocational teacher Dennis "Butch" Baughan.
"I thought there was a population that the current day labor site isn’t addressing in the Dulles corridor area," Baughan said. "There are high school dropouts, unemployed workers, men and woman who might not have a job … and I wanted a site that could serve them."
Baughan, 61, is a founding member of local anti-illegal immigration activist group Help Save Herndon, which backed the current Town Council in last year’s local elections partly as an effort to remove the Herndon Official Works Center from town. Baughan appeared in a 2005 MSNBC news broadcast denouncing the founding of the current day labor site and has written letters for local news media in support of candidates opposed to the site.
"I thought that the people who were there should have the legal right to work," said Baughan of his protest to the original site. "If they don’t belong here they shouldn’t be in competition" with legal U.S. residents.
In his proposal, Baughan said that he plans to file tax forms and use legal U.S. identification checks as a way of verifying worker eligibility. The site is not being proposed or financed by Help Save Herndon and would not be staffed by its members although some assistance may be lent if Baughan is chosen, according to Baughan and fellow Help Save Herndon founding member Aubrey Stokes.
"If it’s something that we feel will help out the community then Help Save Herndon will be there to support it in whatever capacity we can," Stokes said.
NEWS THAT PROPOSALS had been made to the town did not come as a surprise to Bill Threlkeld, director of the Herndon Official Workers Center.
"I suppose it’s no surprise that someone amongst the people who are opposed to the site would make a proposal," Threlkeld said. Running a day labor site "is not an easy task, even changing the model of what we’ve established here over the years … it can be difficult."
The possibility of changing the site operator to one that would check for workers’ legal residency status could result in a number of negative consequences to the community, according to council member Harlon Reece, who was the only council member to vote against issuing the request for proposals.
"I’m still concerned that if we have an operator that verifies eligibility to work that all these people will be back on the street," he said. "And then our police will have their hands full enforcing the anti-solicitation ordinance … and we’re looking at [the town’s anti-solicitation ordinance] being more seriously challenged" on constitutional grounds.
That anti-solicitation ordinance was upheld in March in Fairfax County General District Court when a Reston man accused of picking up day laborers in a local parking lot challenged on grounds that it violated his constitutional right to free speech. In her ruling, General District Court Judge Lorraine Nordlund cited that day labor site’s existence as the strongest basis for her decision. Similar anti-solicitation ordinances across the country have been overturned on constitutional grounds in recent years.
Several council members have repeatedly expressed an opinion that the ordinance could be upheld if a site exists, regardless of its availability to certain workers.
For Reece, replacing the current site operator doesn’t make sense as it has solved a serious public nuisance problem of scores of workers congregating in local parking lots.
"It’s not to say that I support illegal immigration," he said, "I just think that at some point reality has to trump ideology."