The Occupy Cleveland rally, which has taken over the city's Public Square, has been marked by relatively cordial relations between the demonstrators and police officers, a difference from the confrontations that have marked the Occupy Oakland protests in recent days. The Nov. 8 referendum to repeal a law that prohibits collective bargaining by public employees, along with requiring employee contributions on health care and pensions -- known as Issue 2 -- has led to the good relationship. Occupy Cleveland recently received a court order allowing 24-hour occupation of the square.
"Generally speaking they have been pretty good," Occupy Cleveland spokesman Jacob Wagner said of the police. "We have an open dialogue with [police union president] Steve Loomis. We have had officers stop by in uniform to drop off tents and materials."
Loomis confirmed the cordial relationship between his union and those in the Occupy movement.
"It's because of Issue 2," he said. "The issues at hand that the Occupy Cleveland folks are dealing with are a lot of the same ones we're dealing with on S.B. 5."
Issue 2 was originally known as Senate Bill 5 when it was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature and Gov. John Kasich (R) earlier this year. Labor unions received over a million signatures statewide to utilize a provision in the state constitution to force a referendum on the law on the November ballot.
Harriet Applegate, the executive secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO, said that she has seen Issue 2 become a benefit for the relationship of the police union and Occupy Cleveland, as well as for the relationships between all of the unions.
"Because of Issue 2, there are progressive people who have become allies with the police -- it has made a difference in the Occupy movement," she said. "They are our union brothers and sisters. Many police have said that they will not vote for another Republican again."
The relationship even led to 11 peaceful arrests in Cleveland earlier this month. Loomis said police officers explained to the Occupy Cleveland demonstrators that they needed to make some arrests in the early days of the protest as participants remained after the square's closing time. Wagner said the group understood the what the police needed to do.
"We want to make sure when we engage in civil disobedience it is safe," Wagner said. "We don't want to see what happened in New York or Oakland. There are a lot of law students and lawyers among us. When the arrests did occur, the police knew who was volunteering to be arrested and who wasn't."
Loomis said police officers are continuing to follow orders and will keep the peace, but at the same time will work with the protesters.
"It was as pleasant an experience as that could have been, arresting people," he said. "It was not violent and not confrontational. That is a good thing for everybody."
Patrol Officer Jennifer Ciaccia, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland Police Department, said the department did not have a position on the relationship between the union and Occupy Cleveland.
Loomis noted the dialogue also helped when Occupy Cleveland leaders considered moving the protest to the police memorial park, which he described as "sacred ground" for police officers. He said he and other union leaders reached out to the Occupy movement to discuss the issue and the Occupy movement choose a new location.
Wagner said that Occupy Cleveland considers all public employees impacted by Issue 2 to be part of the 99 percent, noting that many public employees have joined the movement.
"This bill has long-reaching ramifications," he said. "It is the slippery slope argument. Once you start this attack, where does it stop? It is all the public workers it will effect. It is the larger aspect of the one percent."
Loomis said that he believes the entire fight will help anti-Kasich forces in the state during the referendum and for the remainder of the governor's term. Kasich is up for reelection in 2014.
"S.B. 5, Issue 2 has forged very odd partnerships. That's not a bad thing -- it's a good thing," Loomis said. "That will blow up in Kasich's face. He does not want the police union and the AFL-CIO working hand in hand. They would rather see us at each other's throats."
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