The participants are loud and, to some office workers forced to listen to them for several hours, annoying. But the Washington Post reports that in the case of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters’ pickets, these protesters aren’t even members of the union. They’re homeless people who are paid about $8 an hour to picket while actual union members continue on with their jobs.
The carpenters’ union appears to be the prime practitioner of this practice, though word spreading about the use of homeless people in picket lines may cause passersby to question the legitimacy of any and all pickets. Union representatives could not be reached for comment, according to the story.
As a spokesperson for the United Steelworkers of America notes in the Post story, hiring homeless people to do your picketing for you probably undercuts the message of a worker class being exploited, or least raises doubt about who exactly is being taken advantage of.
For more on union communications tactics, see also "Unions' 'CSR' efforts challenge corporations."