(Updates with protester comments in fifth paragraph, trucker comments in paragraphs 12 through 14.)
Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Occupy Wall Street protests spread to U.S. West Coast ports as demonstrators tried to halt shipping operations and cut into profits at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which owns a stake in the largest cargo-terminal operator.
Protesters rallied in Oakland and Long Beach, California, and Portland, Oregon, early today as workers attempting to move goods vented frustration. The Oakland port was operating with “sporadic disruptions” caused by protesters blocking truckers, said Isaac Kos-Read, a port spokesman.
“I have bills to pay at home,” said Mark Hebert, a long- haul truck driver for C.R. England Inc. in Salt Lake City who was stranded at the Oakland port with 36,000 pounds of Kansas beef bound for Asia. “These people say they represent the 99 percent. They don’t represent me.”
The Occupy protesters say they want to highlight the plight of average Americans who have suffered from home foreclosures and soaring unemployment rates as the largest U.S. banks have recovered after the 2008 financial crisis. Their slogan, “We are the 99 percent,” is a reference to economist Joseph Stiglitz’s research that found the richest 1 percent of Americans control 40 percent of the wealth.
“This isn’t about the truckers,” Charles Rachlis, 55, a government scientist from El Cerrito, California, said in an interview at the Oakland protest. “We have to shut down the wheels of capitalism at the port. This scares the bejesus out of Wall Street.”
Union representatives say today’s protests will hurt the port workers through lost wages.
Demonstrators planned to disrupt the largest U.S. and Canadian container ports -- Los Angeles; Long Beach, and Vancouver -- as well as Anchorage, Alaska; Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; Portland; San Diego and Oakland. The economic value of containerized cargo at West Coast ports is about $705 million a day, according to Martin Associates in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a consulting firm.
“They are targeting the wrong people,” Mike Gardner, 42, a crane operator from Portland, said in an interview today. “The corporations are still making money today. We are not.”
Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the San Francisco-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union, criticized organizers for not consulting the union.
‘Day Without Pay’
“For longshore workers, it could mean a day without pay or a dispute with the company over whether or not workers will be paid,” Merrilees said in a Dec. 7 telephone interview.
“You can’t have a small group of people issuing declarations about what other people ought to do with regard to giving up a day’s pay or closing their workplace,” Merrilees said. “They could alienate workers and turn them against the very movement that is the best chance we have to make our country more equitable and just.”
Jairo Osorio, 43, an independent contractor for trucker C.R. England, said he’ll lose $300 to $500 as a result of the protest. He’ll have to sleep in his truck overnight and make delivery tomorrow, he said.
“They were successful in shutting down the port. Hurting the company? No. All this stuff is waiting to be unloaded tomorrow,” Osorio said.
“They should be protesting in the parking lots of the corporate offices in San Francisco and L.A., not here and hurting the drivers,” he said.
In Portland, two of the four terminals are closed in response to protester activity, said Steve Johnson, a port spokesman. Protesters pitched a gray camping tent at the gate of the terminal.
“There will be lost wages, lost shifts, delays,” Josh Thomas, another port spokesman, said today in a telephone interview.
Protesters in Long Beach, who earlier chanted “Shut down the port,” had largely dispersed by mid-day, said John Pope, a spokesman.
The port operations remained open, although traffic, mostly trucks, backed up for at least a mile at the entrance to the port’s Pier J.
“The police stopped traffic to clear out protesters,” Pope said.
Doug Seaman, 35, an unemployed construction worker from Simi Valley, California, who protested at the Long Beach port, said demonstrators got there early to disrupt a shift change at 7 a.m.
“It was definitely not business as usual for them,” Seaman said in an interview. “We need to make the public aware that Wall Street’s tentacles have infiltrated every facet of our lives.”
In New York, about 250 protesters congregated at the southeast corner of Goldman Sachs’ headquarters on West Street near the World Trade Center. Police cordoned off the front of the building, admitting only those with identification.
Some demonstrators donned squid hats and carried squid sculptures made of umbrellas and papier mache, a reference to Matt Taibbi’s 2009 article in Rolling Stone magazine labeling Goldman Sachs a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.”
Some chanted slogans including, “Everybody pays their tax, everyone but Goldman Sachs,” and “Take the ax to Goldman Sachs.”
Los Angeles protesters circulated a flier -- “Occupy the Ports! A Day Without Goldman Sachs!” -- featuring a caricature of Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein steering a ship loaded with bags of money. The company is part-owner of Carrix Inc., whose SSA Marine provides cargo handling services as the largest U.S.-owned container terminal operator.
Andrea Raphael, a spokeswoman for the New York-based Goldman Sachs, the fifth biggest U.S. bank by assets, declined to comment on the protest.
The port protests are the latest action taken by the Occupy Wall Street movement, which formed in New York in September to denounce large financial firms that received taxpayer-funded government rescue packages. The protesters initially erected tent camps from New York to San Francisco that have since been dismantled by police.
Protesters from Occupy Oakland last month shut down the fifth-busiest container handler in the U.S. Maritime operations there yield $8.5 million in economic activity daily, according to Kos-Read.
Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners bought a 49 percent stake in Carrix Inc., a Seattle-based transportation company, in 2007. Carrix owns SSA Marine, which has more than 125 operations worldwide, including in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Mexico, Chile and New Zealand.
“GSIP is primarily made up of pension plans of workers in the United States and Australia, and those groups hire money managers to manage their pension funds,” said Bob Watters, senior vice president at Seattle-based SSA Marine.
“I think they haven’t done their research,” Watters said of the demonstrators in a Dec. 8 telephone interview. “If they had, they would understand that we are a union operation, we support union workers, family-wage projects and make investments to increase those job opportunities.”
Goldman Sachs, the most profitable securities firm in Wall Street history before converting to a bank in 2008, received $10 billion from the U.S.’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, created in 2008 after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. to avert a collapse of the U.S. financial system. Goldman Sachs has since repaid the funds with interest.
--With assistance from Laura Marcinek and Christine Harper in New York, Anthony Effinger in Portland, Oregon, Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles and Shivaune Field in Long Beach. Editors: Pete Young, Jeffrey Taylor, Mark Schoifet
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