Set hiring site for laborers

Set hiring site for laborers: Suffolk, foundations should work together on day-worker problem (Newsday Editorial, Long Island, New York - 4.6.07)

For the moment, there's a lull in Suffolk County in the rhetoric over the issue of immigrant day workers. The latest ineffectual piece of legislation in the county legislature has fallen by the wayside. This moment of calm might be the right time to begin rethinking a long-rejected idea for easing the problem in Farmingville: creating a hiring site.

County Executive Steve Levy has been adamant that the county cannot use taxpayer money to pay for a site that would be used by illegal immigrants. But nothing else has worked. There are still day workers standing on streets in Farmingville, waiting for contractors to offer them jobs.

Most recently, the legislature voted down a proposal designed to keep the immigrants off county roads in the area, on the theory that they are causing accidents by darting into the streets. Clearly, a majority of the legislators saw this approach as flawed. Even if it passed constitutional muster, it would only have moved the workers to town roads.

The bill's sponsor, Legis. Jack Eddington (WFP-Medford), says that something good may yet come from the controversy that his proposal ignited. One hopeful sign is the willingness of the Island's private philanthropic sector to put up some funding for a hiring site. But foundations can't do it alone, and they want anything they do to be part of a public-private partnership. That means the county has to do something.

Levy's hard-line stance means that the something won't be money. But it could be something else, such as the use of vacant land. Levy should at least explore creative alternatives for putting together a public-private effort, so he can ease the problem without contradicting his often-restated opposition to using taxpayer dollars.

Across the country, as Newsday's Bart Jones has reported, more than 60 hiring sites are in operation. They aren't perfect. Some workers and some contractors will avoid them. But they can get many of the workers off the streets. If Levy really wants to make things better in Farmingville, it's time for him to step back and give this some thought.

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