The following editorial appeared in yesterday’s Asbury Park Press: The Lakewood Township Committee’s latest plan to relocate the “muster zone” – the area on Clifton Avenue where day laborers gather to seek work with contractors – is another poor response to a longstanding problem. Instead of providing a new home for the laborers – many of them illegal immigrants – the committee should stop them from mustering in the first place.Some local business owners support the new plan, though others see it for what it is, including Hershel Herskowitz, who called it an “absolutely stupid idea.” Business owner Pat DeFillipis said, “It’s like putting out a welcome mat: “Come to Sanctuary City.”‘
The committee’s plan, announced last week, includes a new $250 fine on the loitering laborers and the contractors who pull up curbside to hire them. That’s an appropriate response. The committee set a 30-day window before those fines will be issued, allowing for time to alert and educate all of them on the new regulation.
But instead of stopping there, the committee chose to take on the role of temporary employment agency, designating an “Employment Services Area” in a portion of the municipal parking lot, which will be equipped with pedestrian barriers, portable toilets and trash cans. That’s not the job of local government. Let contractors hire people the way any other business does. The plan to set up a special place for laborers to congregate should be stopped.
The fines alone should help clear Clifton Avenue so people can shop and eat there without confronting the throngs of day laborers waiting for work. The new ordinance is modeled after one in effect in Oyster Bay, L.I., that prohibits solicitation from sidewalks. Oyster Bay did not take the extra step of providing an alternate site for the laborers, and officials there are confident they are on solid legal ground after researching successful precedents.
Lakewood officials should think back to their last unsuccessful attempt to relocate the muster zone to the Lakewood Industrial Park in fall 2006. The committee spent about $40,000 to construct a shelter and set up portable toilets, and declared zero tolerance for drivers stopping to pick up laborers on Clifton Avenue. But nobody showed up at the shelter, and laborers and contractors instead began meeting on side streets.
Lakewood officials say their new arrangement is aimed at accommodating people’s need to find work, especially at a time of high unemployment. Instead, it effectively sanctions illegal immigration and makes it easier for contractors, some unscrupulous, to pay substandard wages and avoid payroll taxes. Those aren’t the types of business practices the town should be encouraging.