About 30 people picket in front of a bank in downtown Washington, D.C., wearing big yellow signs that read: "Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters."
They shuffle about in circles, many wearing hooded sweatshirts and jeans. Their coats are draped over parking meters; their belongings sit in plastic grocery bags on the sidewalk. I ask a protester named Mike Hodge why he's there.
"We're protesting, we're protesting…" Then the energy leaves his voice and he concedes, "I don't know."
Hodge isn't a carpenter; he's a rent-a-picket.
The regional carpenters' union has hired Hodge for $8 an hour, essentially outsourcing protest work that union members traditionally do themselves. And many of the demonstrators are homeless people, according to people familiar with the union and its practices.
UPDATE: This has been going on for ages, it seems.