Gurney's Inn
February 28, 2007

Partnership To Solve Day Laborer Dilemma?

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Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney has come up with a solution he believes will serve as a tool to alleviate the escalating crowds of day laborers who are convening in the Village of Southampton in their quest for work. His plan involves teaming up with the village in an effort to address what some consider an escalating crisis. The answer, Heaney said, is code enforcement.

"Certainly, what seems missing is the fact that there seems not to be a mechanism for doing code enforcement with the home improvement contractors," said Heaney, referring to the scores of day laborers who congregate around the 7-Eleven in the village.

The supervisor believes people are lining the streets looking for work because the village has allowed Suffolk County to regulate home improvement contractors.

"The problem, to be very blunt, is that the county department of consumer affairs might as well be in the next state," said Heaney. "And they don't seem to have the resources available to provide enforcement."

Instead, the supervisor said there might be an opportunity to consider an alternative: The Town of Southampton could provide the services of its license review board in conjunction with the efforts of the village's code enforcement efforts.

The village would have to adopt a local ordinance entering into an agreement with the town, allowing the town to provide oversight for code violations regarding home improvement contractors. "We would be able to handle the complaints that come into the village on their behalf," said Heaney.

As for the county's current oversight of the situation, Heaney said simply, "There is none. Suffolk County doesn't have much of a commitment to consumer affairs when it comes to the East End. They don't have the resources available to our population."

Southampton Town issues three different types of home improvement contractor licenses that must be conspicuously displayed on vehicles. The town requires licensing of electricians, plumbers and landscapers, as well as general home improvement contractors. "I think it's in the best interest of the village to ensure that people who are stopping to pick up day laborers are properly licensed," said Heaney.

The supervisor's suggestion comes on the heels of a recent press conference held by The Coalition for A Work Link Center, when a proposal for a new hiring hall to be located at the Long Island Rail Road Station in Southampton was introduced. The proposed hiring hall would be in an 8 x 40 foot trailer, at the far end of the railroad station on property owned by the Metropolitan Transit Authority. It would include a covered seating area and enclosed portable toilets.

The proposed hiring hall concerned area parents and residents who questioned placing a hiring hall steps away from Our Lady of the Hamptons, a grammar school.

But, while the proposed hiring hall has caused a stir in the community, there is no word yet on whether the project could even go forward. James Castle, spokesperson for the MTA, said "a written proposal must be submitted to the MTA real estate department and as far as we know, a written proposal hasn't been submitted."

Last week, Sister Margaret Smyth, co-chair of the coalition, said a proposal would be sent to the MTA in the next few weeks.

Heaney said last week the coalition "could not have come up with a worse location" for the hiring site. He believes local government should not be asked to spend taxpayer dollars to "validate the series of illegal activities by employers and day laborers."

"Let's recognize that the reason why the numbers [of day laborers] has grown is because East Hampton has increased its enforcement in recent years," he said.

East Hampton police began turning over license plate numbers of contractors hiring the day laborers to the Internal Revenue Service. The laborers disappeared within days.

Heaney believes most of the laborers don't even live in Southampton Town.

"Watch the S92 bus coming in from Riverhead and see where they get off. People are converging on that little stretch of North Main Street from two locations — from the west and from the North Fork."

Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley agreed a shared service agreement with the town might be a solution to a growing problem, "to make sure everyone's qualified to do the job, and that they're properly insured. If we join forces, it will be easier. The town has more manpower than we do," he said. "Because a lot of contractors work both in the village and the town, if the rules are the same, consistency will make it easier for those guys and for us from an enforcement standpoint."

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