OAKLAND, Calif. — More than 1,000 protesters descended on the Port of Oakland Monday evening as part of a daylong effort to shut down the port.
Most longshoremen were sent home in the morning after demonstrators blocked some port entrances, and shippers did not request any longshoremen for the night shift, said Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
The companies normally request between 100 and 200 workers for the shift that starts at 7 p.m., Merrilees said. About 150 of the 200 morning shift workers were sent home after shippers agreed with workers that the protests created unsafe working conditions.
A spokesman for the longshoremen's union says shippers at the port would typically request 100 to 200 workers for the overnight shift but weren't asking for any Monday due to the ongoing protests.
Port spokesman Marilyn Sandifur said the move would bring nighttime operations at the nation's fifth-busiest shipping port to a virtual halt.
"Operations have continued throughout the day after sporadic interruptions due to the morning protest activities," Sandifur said in a statement. "As for the rest of the day and overnight, the port anticipates very limited terminal activity."
Several hundred people began picketing before dawn and blocked at least two entrances at the Port of Oakland. A long line of big rigs sat outside the gates, unable to drive into the port.
Protesters dispersed after claiming victory then regrouped in greater numbers and began marching back to the port in the afternoon when word came that the longshoremen would not return.
"Mission accomplished," said Oakland blockade organizer Boots Riley.
Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old Marine Corps veteran who was struck in the head during a clash between police and Occupy Oakland protesters in October, led the evening march by about 1,000 protesters.
On Monday morning, police in riot gear monitored the scene as protesters marched in an oval and carried signs with messages such as "Labor and Occupy Unite," an invitation to the powerful dockworkers union to join their push against corporate greed.
Two protesters trying to block trucks from entering the port were arrested when they did not obey a police order to leave, Oakland police Chief Howard Jordan said.
Some longshoremen arriving for the morning shift at the two affected port terminals did not try to enter due to the safety concerns. Some also said they weren't willing to cross the demonstrators' picket lines.
Port spokesman Isaac Kos-Read said early in the day that the facility remained open even after workers left in the morning.
"There's been disruptions throughout the morning shift. We've done our best to minimize those disruptions," Kos-Read said.
Merrilees said workers felt it was unsafe "to pass through the gauntlet of protesters and police." Their employers told them they could go home, but would not be paid, Merrilees said.
The union members intend to file an appeal for their pay.
Union officials say longshoremen were not paid after Occupy Oakland protesters successfully blockaded the port Nov. 2.
DeAndre Whitten, 48, a longshoreman for 12 years, said it was his understanding he would be losing about $500 in pay for the day. But he said he supported the protest effort.
"I'm excited. It was way overdue. I hope they keep it up," Whitten said. "I have no problem with it. But my wife wasn't happy about it."
The Occupy protest took on a bit of a carnival atmosphere Monday night with music and dancing. The protesters said it was all part of their effort to bring awareness to the economic inequality in this country.
One man wearing a National Rifle Association hat said it's a protest for freedom.
"It's about getting attention to a political movement for all our rights, even gun rights," said protester Traber Schroeder.
Middle Harbor Road was filled with hundreds of protesters who arrived on foot. At one point, some jumped on top of big-rig trucks and hung banners. At one point, food lines formed to hand out hundreds of burritos, hummus wraps and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to those still gathered at the port.
Truckers caught in the middle could do nothing but wait. Independent trucker Ron Coleman said he is part of the 99 percent, but the protest was hurting his bottom line.
"I'm an owner operator and this is affecting me because we push 1,100 miles on average a day over 48 states," said Coleman. "So how this affects me is about $1.30 a mile."
"I understand some of the stuff they're talking about," agreed Utah-based trucker Mark Hebert. "But what they're doin' hurts me."
Hebert has 36,000 pounds of perishable meat he's hauled from the Midwest to be put on a ship.
Hundreds of people trickled away from the port as the evening went on but a core group remains, and could throw a wrench in trucker's plans to get back on schedule Tuesday.
"General manager says 7 a.m. open the doors, because the protesters’ permit to be here expires at midnight" said Hebert.
Oakland police kept a low profile during the protest, watching from unmarked vans.
At a briefing Monday night, Oakland's acting Police Chief Howard Jordan said his officers will "take appropriate action" to reclaim the port if necessary, but he wouldn't say when.
Leaders of the ILWU, which represents thousands of longshoremen, previously spoke out against the coordinated effort by Occupy protesters to blockade ports from Anchorage to San Diego.
In Southern California, as many as 400 demonstrators gathered in a park then marched in heavy rain to the Port of Long Beach. Before most dispersed, they targeted a dock facility leased by SSA Marine, a shipping company partially owned by giant investment firm Goldman Sachs.
Beating drums and waving flags, dozens of protesters, gathered outside a fenced area at the port, part of a sprawling complex that spans parts of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Police repeatedly warned that they faced arrest if they crossed the fenced area. Officers later started pushing the protesters further back. They spilled into the street, blocking access to the pier and holding up truck traffic. At least one person was taken into custody.
Protesters mostly remained in a parking lot so there were no major disruptions to operations, port spokesman John Pope said.
In Ventura County, about 150 protesters picketed outside the entrance to the Port of Hueneme. No arrests were reported.
In Oakland, the protests halted truck traffic using at least two gates. Critics of the protests have complained that the blockades will hurt the incomes of people who have little connection to Wall Street.
"This is joke. What are they protesting?" said Christian Vega, 32, who sat in his truck carrying a load of recycled paper from Pittsburg. The delay was costing him $600, he said.
"It only hurts me and the other drivers. We have jobs and families to support and feed. Most of them don't," Vega said.
Not all truckers felt the same way. In a letter signed by drivers from several West Coast ports, the worker advocacy group Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports praised the Occupy movement for calling attention to difficult working conditions for truckers, many of whom work without benefits as independent contractors.
Meanwhile, The Sacramento Bee (bit.ly/uHvSpt) reported that about 100 truckers in Sacramento gathered to protest the port shutdown effort.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan called on protesters to keep the demonstrations peaceful and respect the rights of workers.
Oakland protester Alex Schmaus, 26, said he believed the effort was for the greater good of workers.
"We're trying to make things better for them," Schmaus said.
In San Diego, a few dozen protesters converged on the port as part of the blockade effort. Police spokesman Gary Hassen said four people were arrested, most for failure to disperse or refusal to comply with police orders.
There was no violence, he said.
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