Laborer Site A Success, Officials Say

Ann Csonka, who supports the center, attends a news conference about the site.
Ann Csonka, who supports the center, attends a news conference about the site. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 12, 2006

Organizers of the Herndon Official Workers Center yesterday proclaimed the day-laborer site a success and called on people on both sides of the issue to participate in productive dialogue rather than name-calling.

"The way we feel about it so far is that we are quite encouraged," said Joel Mills, a member of the executive council of Project Hope and Harmony, which operates the day-laborer center. "We are certainly not ready to declare victory on this issue. We know we have a long way to go, particularly in continuing to be successful in managing day laborers into the spring and summer. But we are quite encouraged at this point about what we have seen in the first month."

The outdoor hiring site opened Dec. 14 after months of heated debate as the publicly funded center became a focal point in the contentious national argument over illegal immigration. Activists on both sides of the issue showed up the first day carrying signs and sometimes engaging in spirited arguments.

Since then, activists have showed up sporadically and have not disrupted the hiring of day laborers, Mills said.

Bill Threlkeld, the director of Project Hope and Harmony, said yesterday that an average of 97 workers have shown up daily at the center, two more than had been gathering last month in a parking lot at a 7-Eleven, which had served as an unofficial day-laborer site for years. Threlkeld said about five fewer workers were being hired each day at the new location, a drop he attributed to laborers with "prearranged work" meeting employers at other locations closer to their homes.

"For us, this is excellent news," Threlkeld said. "It means we are having the same amount of participation from employers and workers that we had at the informal site" where workers are no longer permitted to gather.

Mills said that activists do not speak for the community. "We believe published comments during the last month from both sides of this debate have been irresponsible," he said. "Most residents would agree that neither of these viewpoints are representative of the vast majority of our community."

The Herndon Town Council approved the center in August, and Fairfax County appropriated $175,000 to Reston Interfaith Inc. to open it. Project Hope and Harmony, which is affiliated with Reston Interfaith, runs the job site.

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