Unions turn out to support Occupy Boston protesters
Several days after more than 100 of its protesters were arrested for refusing to leave a large section of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, Occupy Boston get a boost yesterday when unions turned out to support the wave of unrest sweeping the country.
Hundreds of union leaders and rank-and-file members - including teachers, steelworkers, nurses, and electrical workers - joined the protesters, who are criticizing Wall Street excesses and social inequality, at Dewey Square in Boston’s Financial District.
“Our unions today send a strong message of support to Occupy Boston,’’ said Rich Rogers, head of the Greater Boston Labor Council, who helped organize union support for the movement.
The Labor Council is the regional arm of the AFL-CIO, representing its 154 local unions and 90,000 workers.
“Their message to hold Wall Street accountable is the same message that labor has had for years,’’ Rogers said. “We’ll do anything we can to support their efforts and shed some spotlight on Wall Street’s role in destroying our economy.’’
The addition of labor to the fold added not only numbers but also structure to the protest, which has been going on for about two weeks. The group held a rally at 4 p.m. yesterday and led a march to Downtown Crossing.
The march was escorted by police, who blocked streets for the protesters, marking a dramatic improvement in relations after 141 protesters were arrested early Tuesday morning.
“You have inspired us,’’ said Darlene Lombos, executive director of Community Labor United, which is composed of seven unions and eight community groups. “There are many of us who have been working for decades for the same things you’re fighting for today. We want to thank you. We are proud of you. We stand with you.’’
While most of the union support was new, some members had already been part of the cause.
“I’ve been down here since day one, in the mud,’’ said Jason Chambers, 27, a journeyman iron worker in Local 7. “We practice 100 percent nonviolence, but we also love to raise hell.’’
Some of the most vocal union members were from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and who cited their recent two-week strike against Verizon Communications as an example of the inequality and problems that plague America’s working class.
The union said Verizon is about to announce a $2 billion quarterly profit, while employees are working without a contract.
Phil Santoro of Verizon said last night, “Verizon’s contract proposal strives to ensure that our union-represented employees continue to receive compensation and benefits that are competitive with those at comparable companies.
“Silly PR stunts that are intended to harm customers and Verizon Wireless employees are not going to change the company’s determination to negotiate an agreement which addresses the needs of the wireline business.’’
The rally peaked around 5 p.m., as hundreds of Financial District workers were coming out of the surrounding towers at the end of the work day. Many ignored the procession, while others took pictures. A few even cheered on the protesters.
Tiffany O’Rourke, 28, a waitress at Elephant & Castle Pub & Restaurant, looked on as the group passed by. She said she would be out there with them if she was not working.
“You have to work two jobs in this economy,’’ O’Rourke said. “I’m a hairdresser and a waitress, and I own a house. It’s a struggle.’’
The rally finished with a march to the Verizon store in Downtown Crossing, where hundreds of people from the unions and Occupy Boston chanted and protested.
Occupy Boston no longer had a room at the InterContinental Boston hotel yesterday, said Philip Anderson, a media spokesman for the group. Some $12,000 in private legal aid donations had poured in by yesterday, he said.
Occupy Boston was joined this week by a half-dozen members of Occupy Wall Street, the original protest that sparked the movement. The group helped advise Bostonians on civil disobedience and on forming “affinity groups’’ of like-minded protesters who stick together.