PHILADELPHIA — Occupy Philadelphia protesters have decided to consider moving their City Hall encampment to a different site after hearing from union leaders concerned about the tent city standing in the way of a $50 million renovation project that will create hundreds of jobs.
On Wednesday, the city ordered the protesters to leave the site immediately so that construction could begin at Dilworth Plaza, where hundreds of tents have been set up since the beginning of October. A day later, the group said its members would vote during a "general assembly" Thursday night on an "emergency proposal" to move the approximately 350 tents and participants to a different location.
The city wants them to move and has suggested the option of another municipal plaza across the street. Last week, however, the group voted that it would stay at the site.
Now, the group said it will reevaluate that stance after hearing from union leaders, who have expressed support for the movement but note that the tents are standing in the way of nearly 1,000 jobs. In a statement released by their legal collective, protesters said the decision to reevaluate the vote was made "in solidarity with union workers, as well as to ease some divisions in the group and focus strategically against corporate power."
Jody Dodd, a member of Occupy Philadelphia's legal collective, said she's gotten a sense that support is growing for the idea to move, especially after members heard the concerns of union leaders.
"Labor has been with us from the beginning," Dodd said. "The labor movement's concerns are our concerns."
The demonstration is aimed at condemning the influence of big corporations on government, protesting economic disparity and showing solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York.
Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, said he believes in the group's core values. But he also said he's told protesters about the importance of letting construction begin now that a contractor has been selected. The city has said it hopes the project can start later this month.
Gillespie, who said some the children of some union members are participating in the protest, has spoken with its leaders several times over the past few days.
"I asked them to understand the need for our employment opportunities, and that resonated in a positive way," he said. "We could be working on that site Monday morning."
Philadelphia Managing Director Richard Negrin said the city still was not setting a hard date that protesters must be out of Dilworth Plaza, but he said they would have to be gone by the start of construction.
"When that day arrives, those folks will no longer have a legal right to be on Dilworth Plaza," Negrin said.
Protesters would need to submit a permit application, specifying the date and location of where they want to protest, Negrin said. The city has suggested a plaza at the Municipal Services Building across the street from City Hall, but Negrin said officials would not dictate a specific location.
"We are more than happy to and willing to discuss other locations if they make sense," Negrin said.
When protesters voted earlier this month not to move, Dodd said, there were many unanswered questions about the alternative site and the status of the impending construction project at the current location. But the situation is different now, she said, especially since a contractor was chosen earlier this week.
Occupy Philadelphia was conducting a series of marches and rallies Thursday as part of a nationwide "day of action." Several members, meanwhile, also interrupted a session of Philadelphia City Council, expressing concern over issues including the city's new youth curfew law.