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Port protests by Occupy groups get mixed reaction from workers

December 13, 2011 |  7:57 am

Protest at the port.  Click for more photos.

The Occupy protests that disrupted operations at ports along the West Coast Monday met with a mixed reaction from dockworkers.

The protests were not endorsed by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union or the other major unions operating at the ports. A spokesman for ILWU, Craig Merrilees, said the union has specific rules about when it can agree to support a protest. "This was not a picket line under the legal terms of the current labor agreement," he said.

Still, the union's president said dockworkers agreed with the goals of the Occupy protesters, who assert that the economic system benefits the richest 1% of Americans at the cost of the other 99%.

PHOTOS: Protest at Port of Long Beach

"Most of us are tired of seeing a handful of the richest corporations and executives behave as though they're entitled to live like kings at everyone's expense," ILWU President Robert McEllrath said in a statement.

Others complained that the port protests hurt the working- and middle-class wage-earners the Occupy movement purports to represent.

In Oakland, where shipping terminal operators decided not to call workers in for a scheduled evening shift after a morning of protests, Mayor Jean Quan implored demonstrators to "respect the rights of the 99%" working at the port.

The protests, which stretched from San Diego to Anchorage, brought work to a standstill in Longview, Wash., as well as Oakland and led to the closure of a major marine terminal in Portland, Ore. Demonstrators caused smaller disruptions in Seattle and in Long Beach, where a driving rain and threats of arrest put a damper on an early-morning picket line.

In many cities, protesters targeted terminals operated by SSA Marine, a shipping company that is locked in a labor dispute with some port truckers and is partly owned by Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Organizers said Monday's actions also were an expression of support for union workers in Longview, where the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has been fighting to ensure its members get jobs at a new shipping facility.

Demonstrators claim that withholding labor sends a strong message to the 1% and is a meaningful way for the movement to telegraph its power and potential. A number of truckers who lost their day's wages, however, expressed anger about a decision made without their input.

Two shipping facilities in Portland closed early in the day when about 200 protesters marched in at dawn, setting up a tent and portable toilets. Occupy Portland organizer David Osborn said many port workers refused to cross their picket lines.

One protester waved a sign that apologized for the delay: "Sorry for any inconvenience while we fix our democracy."


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Photo: Protesters square off against police Monday at the Port of Long Beach. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times