Veterans Day Motivates Quasi Occupy Movement in San Francisco

Categories: Labor, Local News

Coburn Palmer
A veteran arrested on Veterans Day
Clarification: The protest was not part of the official Occupy Movement.

It's Veterans Day and rather than sit back, relax, and get patted on the back for all those years serving our country, two local veterans opted to celebrate today by getting arrested.

It was for good reason, they say. After all, they're fighting a war against low wages.

This afternoon, a group of 50 veterans and union members descended on the sidewalk at 520 Market St. where they carried signs, chanted slogans, and generally protested low wages that developers are paying them.

Joined by Supervisors Scott Wiener and David Chiu, the group tried to deliver a letter listing their demands to BRE Properties CEO Connie Moore. But the plan went awry when the group was denied access to the CEO; this prompted the two veterans to stand in front of the door, blocking access to the building.

All of this chanting and door-blocking drew the attention of police, who arrested the two veterans in the doorway.

Leaders say they're fighting so that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans returning home from service get higher wages and better benefits. They targeted BRE because they're a major regional developer which can require its companies to hire veterans returning as new employees and pay them higher wages.

Many of the new construction workers, who are hired as apprentices, are paid minimum wage, according to Robert Hansen, director of compliance for sheet metal workers Local 104.

"These are men and women who have been fighting for our country and we want to see them integrate back into our communities seamlessly," said Hansen. "They shouldn't have to come back and fret over getting a job and whether it's a job that will support their family or not, not just a minimum wage job."

Saying their industry requires its workers to commute to their job sites, Hansen said some employees were being paid less than their transportation costs, forcing some workers to live in company trailers. He also questioned the hiring practices of some companies in the industry and particularly BRE, claiming some of their employees were from outside the state and some were undocumented.

"They want to pay their workers minimum wage and you can't live in a city like this on minimum wage," said Bryan Azevedo, union worker.

Previously billed as part of the Occupy Movement, the group -- which included members from the sheet metal workers union Local 104, IBEW Local 6, Iron Workers Local 377 and Gordon Mar's Jobs for Justice -- wasn't allowed to camp out and eventually left the area after about 40 minutes.

They have, however, vowed to show up at job sites and continue the labor struggle, however they can.

"As a Veteran who found my salvation in the construction trades, I'm more than angry when I read the stats of the number of suicides, broken marriages, and drug problems as my heroes struggle to find a job that pays more than the minimum wage," said Roger Burk, a Vietnam era navy veteran. "Residential Developers are making 15 percent returns on the billions in new construction.  How about providing real jobs for these guys and gals?"

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