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"Some of us were very much offended to see that this industry group — sponsored by Big Oil — was trying to use the 'We are the 99 percent' slogan," said Bruce Hamilton, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1700. "We just can't keep on supporting every single environmentally destructive project that the bosses come up with."
Robby Diesu, a member of the training committee for Occupy DC, which helped stage an anti-pipeline protest with environmental groups at the White House on Sunday, said the division seemed generational.
"I think that a lot of that comes from the upper old guard of the unions," Diesu said. "My friends who work for the unions completely oppose this pipeline." He said the jobs are not worth the environmental consequences.
Several of the nation's biggest unions — the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and others — have not taken a side on the pipeline.
For the past decade, unions have struggled to balance the needs of their employers with the sympathies of their members, said Sean Sweeney, who directs the Global Labor Institute at Cornell University and helped write a report that found the pipeline would produce far fewer jobs than the industry claims.
"Ever since then it's been a roller coaster of contradictions," said Sweeney. "It's a contradiction that they have to grapple with. In the meantime, they are losing friends in the Occupy Wall Street movement."
Eliza Newlin Carney contributed to this report.