Some cities asking Occupy protesters to clear out
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Kai Ryssdal: This could turn out to be a decisive weekend for the various Occupy encampments across the country. Police and civilian officials from Burlington, Vermont, all the way to Oakland, Calif., and points in between are saying it’s time for the protesters to move on. There have been shootings, a couple of deaths, other violence that’s making them nervous.
Organized labor’s also unsure of where things stand. Unions started working with Occupy Wall Street a couple of months ago. It’s not an easy relationship.
Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall-Genzer reports.
Nancy Marshall-Genzer: They’re an odd pair. The no-one’s-in charge protester philosophy clashes with the hierarchy-happy unions. But so far they’re making it work.
You can see that here in Washington. The National Nurses United union has set up a medic tent in McPherson Square, near the White House. Headquarters for Occupy D.C. Union nurses take turns staffing it. Megan Honor Caine is on duty right now, dealing with minor problems.
Megan Honor Caine: Like small cuts or scrapes or injuries. Just wanting to clean those up.
Laura Potter: Cough drops?
Protester Laura Potter hands out cough drops and aspirin from the union. She says the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, has also pitched in.
Potter: The portajohns that we have are provided by SEIU and they were desperately needed, let me tell you!
Protesters around the country have returned the favor. Just two nights ago, protesters in New York turned out for a Teamsters rally at Sotheby’s. Heckling Sotheby’s clients. The Teamsters are representing art handlers in rocky contract talks.
Protester Jackie DiSalvo helped organize that Sotheby’s rally with the Teamsters. She’s part of Occupy Wall Street’s labor committee. Set up specifically to coordinate with unions.
Jackie DiSalvo: They come to our rallies. We plan things and we plan it with them in mind and they join us when we have protest demonstrations.
The protesters’ voices have reached Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa’s hushed office suite in Washington.
Jimmy Hoffa: They singing our song.
Hoffa says the demonstrators are steering the national conversation toward union themes with their simple “we are the 99 percent” message. Now Hoffa is trying to shape what comes next. His strategy: broaden the message.
Hoffa: Let’s talk about jobs. Let’s talk about trade. Let’s talk about food stamps. Let’s talk about more specific issues where there’s such dramatic inequality.
Marc Bayard heads Cornell’s labor institute. He says big labor has to be careful. Labor doesn’t want to be accused of taking over the Occupy movement and looking desperate. While the protesters are somewhat aloof.
Marc Bayard: They I don’t think need any institutions as much as institutions like the labor movement needs them because they’re sort of an organic burst of energy, whether they’re around six months from now or not, the issues that they’re talking about will resonate for some time to come.
Bayard doesn’t know if the Occupy Wall Street movement has enough horsepower to pull labor out of its decades-long slump. And inspire broader public support. As it is, the unions may not even be able to motivate the young demonstrators to join.
Thirty-four-year-old Darrell Henderson has been camping with Occupy D.C. for about two weeks. He’s never been in a union. I asked him, would he ever try to start one?
Darrell Henderson: I think that’s going to be a dilemma for me. Some employers may be good enough where they pay you a decent salary. It’s going to vary according to where I’m working at, and how it is.
Young people like Henderson have never seen a strong union movement. They grew up in a time of union decline.
In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall-Genzer for Marketplace.
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