Occupy protesters target West Coast ports, Walmart in Utah (video)
More than 1,000 Occupy Wall Street protesters blocked cargo trucks at some of the West Coast's busiest ports Monday, forcing terminals in Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore., and Longview, Wash., to halt operations in a day of demonstrations that stretched from Utah to both coasts that they hope will cut into the profits of corporations.
While the port protests attracted far fewer people than the 10,000 who turned out Nov. 2 to shut down Oakland's port, organizers declared victory and promised more demonstrations to come.
Organizers called for the "Shutdown Wall St. on the Waterfront" protests, hoping the day of demonstrations would cut into the profits of the corporations that run the docks and send a message that their movement was not over.
The closures' economic impact, however, wasn't immediately clear. By midafternoon, there were a handful of arrests but no major clashes with police.
Acting in solidarity in Utah, about three dozen members of Occupy Salt Lake City gathered at the Gallivan Plaza early Monday and made their way to the Walmart Super Center in Tooele, where several entered and conducted a "mic check." Reading from a prepared script, they urged Walmart employees to unionize and promised that the protest movement would help them organize.
"Low low prices means high high exploitation. The Walton Family has 93 billion dollars, they should pay you more," the group chanted in unison.
After a few minutes, store officials escorted the Occupiers to the door. Reached Monday afternoon, Walmart corporate spokesman Dan Fogleman defended the company's business practices and its prices.
"Our core customers make $30,000 to $60,000 a year and are struggling to make ends meet," Fogleman said. "They depend on Walmart to make goods available at prices they can afford."
Over the years, Walmart workers have declined the chance to organize into unions, Fogleman said, adding that he'd heard no reports of disruption to Walmart operations as a result of Monday's protests.
However, Utah Occupiers felt their efforts were worthwhile.
"It felt great," protester Tree Wilson, 27, said of the Walmart demonstration. Wilson grew up in West Jordan and works in a copper mine.
Activist Justin Kramer, 27, attends the University of Utah and also works full time.
"I'm really excited to be a part of it," Kramer said, noting that groups in at least six western cities participated in similar anti-Walmart events in conjunction with the shutdown of coastal seaports.
Salt Lake and Provo Occupiers then proceeded to the Grantsville cemetery, parked their cars and mounted bicycles to ride down State Road 138 to the nearby Walmart Distribution Center.
They managed to slow traffic and were greeted by a strong law enforcement presence, including officers from the Utah Highway Patrol and the Tooele Police Department.
No arrests were made but a handful of citations were issued for riding three abreast on the roadway and not halting at a stop sign.Corporal Todd Johnson, spokesman for the Utah Highway Patrol, said the state agency had a supervisor at the scene observing, along with troopers in the area standing by in case they were needed. "Our involvement was very small and it basically turned out to be nothing."
The coastal demonstrations were also peaceful and isolated to a few gates at each port. But port and longshoremen union officials determined that conditions were unsafe for workers.
In Oakland, shipping companies and the longshoremen's union agreed to send home about 150 workers, essentially halting operations at two terminals. In Portland, authorities shuttered two terminals after arresting two people who were carrying weapons.
And in Longview, Wash., workers were sent home out of concerns for their "health and safety."
The movement, which sprang up this fall against what it sees as corporate greed and economic inequality, is focusing on the ports as the "economic engines for the elite" in its most dramatic gesture since police raids cleared out most remaining Occupy tent camps last month.
Organizers of the port demonstrations said they hope to draw thousands to stand in solidarity with longshoremen and port truckers they said are being exploited, though the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents many thousands of longshoremen up and down the West Coast, has distanced itself from the shutdown effort.
The union's president suggested in a letter to members that protesters were attempting to co-opt the union's cause to advance their own agenda.
Organized labor appears divided over the port shutdown effort. In Oakland, the city's teachers union is backing Monday's action, while the county's construction workers have come out against the shutdown, saying the port has provided jobs to many unemployed workers and apprentices.
Walmart in Utah
Five neighborhood markets
Eight Sam's Clubs
Three distribution centers.
$11.85 per hour average pay for full-time workers