- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2000

District of Columbia police yesterday arrested 32 demonstrators who blocked downtown traffic during the height of the rainy morning rush hour to support a protest by parking lot attendants seeking to join a union.

Yesterday's demonstration by about 300 protesters also was part of worldwide rallies against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which are meeting in Prague. U.S. organizers said the protests focused on battling multinational corporations and globalization.

"The message of these actions is clear: Two of the titans of the global financial system, the World Bank and the IMF, have hurt global standards of living and failed to alleviate poverty," Fred Azcarate, executive director of Jobs With Justice, one of the organizing protest groups, told the parking-lot demonstrators in the District.

The protest was held outside InterParking at 1920 L St. NW to draw attention to parking attendants who have been trying to organize with the Parking and Services Workers Union Local 27, an affiliate of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union.

Nick Weiner, a research analyst for the union, said the demonstration was part of 55 protests nationwide by the Mobilization for Global Justice Coalition, an umbrella group for organizations opposed to global capitalism.

"Here in Washington they were highlighting our plight with InterParking. InterParking has refused to [allow workers to join a union]," Mr. Weiner said. "There were 32 activists who said they were willing to get arrested to bring attention to this issue."

The 32 persons were arrested and charged with failing to obey the lawful order of a police officer. They were released yesterday afternoon after paying $100 fines. Mr. Weiner said the union paid the fines of many of the demonstrators.

Jeffrey Kovach, a marketing officer for InterParking, said the company does not object to employees joining a union, adding that InterParking differs with the union over how the employees would vote.

Mr. Weiner said the union wants a "card-checking" ballot in which parking attendants become union members by voting "yes" for a union. Mr. Kovach said InterParking wants its employees to hold elections on whether they want a union.

"It is in our best interest to have our employees vote today. We believe we have a superior benefits package," Mr. Kovach said. "We are open to a vote at any time."

"Their protests in no way change our commitment to give the employees the right to vote," he added.

A police spokesman said the demonstrators began congregating around 7:30 a.m. and at about 8 a.m. the 32 activists walked into the center of L Street, held hands and sat down to block traffic.

By 8:49 a.m. the activists were in custody and the street was reopened at 9 a.m.

The spokesman said the Metropolitan Police Department's mobile command center was located nearby and additional officers were detailed to the demonstration.

Mr. Weiner said that the police officers responded calmly to the peaceful demonstration, and that he did not see anyone injured.

Organizers said the demonstrations in Prague, which turned violent with as many as 9,000 protesters, and in other cities worldwide were follow-ups to the April rallies in the District and last year's protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle.

Other protests in U.S. cities targeted companies, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Pfizer Inc., Sodexho Marriott Services Inc., Citigroup Inc., United Technologies Corp., Kohl's Corp. and Target Corp., organizers said.

Protest leaders accused the companies of using sweatshop labor abroad, allowing abusive conditions in privately managed prisons and failing to provide affordable drugs to AIDS patients in Africa.

The companies involved either had no comment, discounted the accusations or said they were taking steps to remedy the problems.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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