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November 4, 2011 > Union support bolsters Occupy Oakland strike

Union support bolsters Occupy Oakland strike

By Lisa Leff, Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP), Nov 01 - A widely anticipated strike Wednesday by anti-Wall Street demonstrators in Oakland is expected to get a big boost from organized labor and established advocacy groups whose grievances range from school closures and waning union benefits to home foreclosures and cuts to libraries and services for the disabled.

The unions representing Oakland's public school teachers, community college instructors, city government workers and University of California, Berkeley teaching assistants have endorsed the broad-based call to action that is expected to include marches, pickets outside banks and an attempt to shut down the Port of Oakland in the evening.

The Alameda Labor Council, an umbrella group for AFL-CIO-affiliated union locals, also voiced support for a citywide work and school walkout, saying it planned to host a cookout Wednesday evening at the plaza outside Oakland City Hall where demonstrators have established an encampment.

At least one union, however, was unhappy with its role in the daylong actions. The city's police union published a letter Tuesday criticizing what it said was a ``flip-flop'' by Mayor Jean Quan on the city's Occupy Wall Street protests and questioning why the city plans to beef up its police presence at strike-related events while giving other city workers leeway to participate.

``Is it the city's intention to have city employees on both sides of a skirmish line?'' the letter said.

The scathing letter comes one week after police were asked to clear the protesters' encampment during an early morning raid, only to have Quan allow the protesters reclaim the plaza outside City Hall the next day by tearing down fences protecting the lawn.

The raid, which was followed by a tear gas-clouded standoff with marchers that night, led to about 100 arrests and the wounding of an Iraq War veteran who received a fractured skull. His injury has helped make Oakland, and its police department, a rallying point in the national Occupy Wall Street movement.

``What was last Tuesday all about? The mayor is painting us as the bad guys in all of this,'' Oakland Police Officer's Association President Sgt. Dom Arotzarena told The Associated Press. ``We're going to be seen as the establishment, and it's not fair to the police, it's not fair to anyone.

``We're set to fail on this,'' he added.

Arotzarena said the Oct. 25 raid and street clash cost the city $1 million, and that officers are confused about Quan's stance and their marching orders heading into Wednesday.

Quan said in a statement Tuesday that she hoped the strike would be peaceful and that she was working with interim Police Chief Howard Jordan to ensure that the protesters issues are ``front and center.''

``The pro-99 percent activists - whose cause I support - will have the freedom to get their message across without the conflict that marred last week's events,'' Quan said. ``Although getting the balance right is never an easy task, in Oakland we are committed to honoring free speech and protecting public safety.''

Karen Boyd, a city spokeswoman, said later in the day that the role of police would be ``facilitating'' the rolling marches and mobilizations planned for Wednesday.

As Oakland has become an epicenter for the Wall Street movement, demonstrators in other cities including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia said they planned to hold solidarity actions on Wednesday.

Although Wednesday's event in Oakland was not scheduled with sufficient time to permit local unions to seek strike authorizations, local union representatives said Tuesday their members were being encouraged to participate by taking the day off or joining the activities after work.

The staffs at two Oakland elementary schools and a small high school had decided to close their campuses for the day as of Tuesday afternoon, Oakland Education Association Secretary Steve Neat said. At least 182 school district employees, the vast majority classroom teachers, had asked to be replaced with substitutes on Wednesday, Neat said.

``All of these different problems - foreclosures, schools closing, attacks on labor unions - they all basically stem from the fact that the top 1 percent and corporations are never satisfied to just make profit. Their profits need to go up and up every year,'' Neat said. ``It's sort of a realization that a lot of people are having that we've all been fighting our own issues, but really, it's all related, it's all the same issue.''

City officials also have agreed to allow ``nonessential'' government workers to use vacation, personal or furlough days to participate in the strike, city workers also have been told they can leave early, at 3 or 4 p.m. depending on when their days started, said Steve Stallone, a spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

``It was a discussion, but you know how the city is,'' Stallone said. ``On one hand, they really support this. On the other hand, they have to balance their stuff. They came around.''

In its open letter, the Oakland police union also asked demonstrators to remember that ``We, too, are the 99% fighting for better working conditions, fair treatment and the ability to provide a living for our children and families. We are severely understaffed with many city beats remaining unprotected by police during the day and evening hours.''

The president and executive director of the Port of Oakland, the nation's fifth-busiest port, issued a similar plea in advance of the possible shutdown, which Occupy Oakland organizers scheduled in sympathy with longshoremen in Washington state who have been picketing a grain transport facility.

``It is our privilege, indeed our right in this country, to peacefully assemble and freely express our grievances to government,'' the letter signed by port President Pamela Calloway and Executive Director Omar Benjamin read. ``And it is our responsibility as Oaklanders to ensure that our city is a safe and peaceful place to live and work.''

The Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce released an open letter of its own in which President Joseph Haraburda expressed concern for ``the mothers and children, and even grandmothers, who plan to come to Oakland to conduct their regular business'' and for business owners who ``must face a day of uncertainty'' if they do not close for the strike.

``We want to be clear, should Wednesday's planned protests go awry, someone will need to be held accountable,'' Haraburda said.

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Associated Press writers Marcus Wohlsen and Terry Collins in Oakland, Calif., and Beth Duff-Brown in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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