The head of the city’s Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council says he is sympathetic to the objectives of Occupy Philly, but he wants the protesters to move so that he can put some of his 70,000 members to work on the Dilworth Plaza construction project.
“We are in full sympathy with the advocates for fairness that are down on Dilworth Plaza,” Pat Gillespie said.
“We have a dilemma, though, that we have a contractor ready to get started on a project that will employ a significant portion of our members, and unemployment in the building trades has been running at 35 to 40 percent over the last couple of years.”
Also Wednesday, Mayor Nutter’s spokesman Mark McDonald said the city had closed the entrances to City Hall that abut Dilworth for safety reasons, including a planned “Day of Action” Thursday by Occupy groups nationally that includes a 4 p.m. march in Philadelphia.
Gillespie said he has gone to Dilworth a few times to talk to protesters and understands their desire to protest economic injustice.
But the estimated 800 to 1,000 jobs, starting at $25 an hour, that the Dilworth remake would provide would go a long way to achieving that, he said.
He believes the Occupiers can continue to make their statement at another location. The city is talking with protesters about possibly moving across the street from Dilworth at Thomas Paine Plaza.
The Occupy Philly group is divided about whether to move. Some want to stay for reasons that include complaints about how the city has communicated with protesters, disagreement with the money being spent on renovation, and a desire to participate in civil disobedience. Others want to move because they believe Philadelphia officials have been so cooperative that they see the city as a model of how to handle civil unrest.
Philadelphia so far has avoided the types of confrontations that resulted in violence in Oakland, New York and Portland, and Mayor Nutter’s administration continues to say it hopes to avoid such conflicts. The city is negotiating a possible move to a new place, but tensions between Philadephia officials and protesters have grown in recent weeks.
When protesters began camping on Dilworth in early October, they signed a permit with the city saying they would move when the $50 million renovation of the plaza on the west side of City Hall started.
But the permit never specified a start date, and since it was signed, divisions within Occupy Philly have grown.
The Center City District, which works on quality-of-life issues in the area, is overseeing the $50 million renovation. It includes plans to remake the SEPTA concourses under Dilworth and add grass, trees and a cafe to the plaza.