Labor group protests on 23rd Street

Loud protesters have taken over the corner of 23rd and G streets by clanging cowbells and beating on drums as early as 9 a.m. every morning this week, disturbing students who live and travel in the area.

The University Police Department has received complaints from students about the picketers, University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said, and the University is addressing the group.

“The University respects the laborers’ right to lawfully protest. However, we are sensitive to reports of nuisance behavior affecting the well-being of our students and the potential for these activities to disrupt the classroom environment and affect the perception of safety on campus,” Sherrard said in an e-mail. “The University is coordinating with the University Police Department, Metropolitan Police Department, GW Housing Programs and D.C. officials to address noise and the other issues associated with the protest.”

The protests, which also occurred sporadically throughout the summer, are organized by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Contractors. The target of the protests, which an organizer said are expected to go on for at least another week, is Anning-Johnson, a specialty drywall contractor doing work on the Smith Center renovations. MARCC is alleging that Anning-Johnson engages in payroll fraud by labeling its workers as independent contractors and neglecting to pay taxes, insurance, Social Security or worker’s compensation, according to pamphlets the protesters handed out.

Representatives from Anning-Johnson declined to comment, as did organizers on scene for MARCC. Sherrard said Anning-Johnson has assured the University that they “abide by all local and federal labor laws and practices.”

MARCC has protested in several locations around campus, including a rally against Tricon Corporation when the drywall company was doing work at 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. in 2008. The group also staged a month-long protest in front of the World Bank building, and marched against Boston Properties, the developer at Square 54. Protesters representing the group often set up a large inflatable rat near the picket line, and carry reusable signs decrying unfair pay with the offending company’s name taped to the top.

But for students living in the area, the protests, which have been repeated throughout the summer, have been disruptive to the commencement of the academic year. At least one picketer repeatedly yelled, “Wake up GW.”

“I first noticed them when I moved into Ivory last Tuesday,” said junior Brant Talesnick, whose third-floor room overlooks the corner. “They don’t really get in my way, but they wake me up in the morning, and overall I am annoyed by the protests because I’m losing sleep over them.”

Picketers have also left trash in the area and blocked the entrance to the Alpha Delta Pi townhouse, located on the corner of 23rd and G streets. Brittany Mitchell, the president of ADPi declined to comment on the issue, saying only that the protesters have affected every chapter on Townhouse Row.

Many of the protesters would not give their names, instead referring questions to George Eisner, the lead organizer, who did not return several calls for comment. It is not clear whether the protesters are employees of Anning-Johnson or members of the MARCC, but the Washington Post reported in 2007 that the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, the parent organization of MARCC, routinely hires homeless people to march in picket lines.

An organizer who appeared to be supervising the picketers confirmed that some of the protesters were not members of MARCC, but said that anyone who wanted to join the rally could. He also said that “free lunch and parking” were provided to volunteers.

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