OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Hundreds of union workers, social justice advocates and their supporters were rallying and marching through the streets of many Bay Area cities on Wednesday to observe International Workers’ Day.
The annual May Day events are intended to draw attention to the need for union jobs, equity in hiring, support for public education and protection for “immigrants, refugees, workers and all people impacted by state violence,” according to organizers.
“It’s a historical day around the struggle against economic and social inequity,” said Tova Fry, a member of the Anti Police-Terror Project and Oakland Sin Fronteras, social justice groups helping organize Wednesday’s events.
Fry’s groups are coordinating the day’s events with the International Longshore Workers Union, which hosted an 11 a.m. rally at the Port of Oakland.
Clarence Thomas, a retired longshore worker and ILWU spokesman, said he was there to help protect union jobs.
“My family has been associated with ILWU since 1944. My mother now is 90 years old,” Thomas said. “She has been the daughter of a longshore worker, the wife of a longshore worker and the mother of a longshore worker.
“My mother still enjoys receiving part of my father’s pension and health care benefits, and I want to make sure that continues,” said Thomas, a West Oakland native.
Thomas said the proposed new Oakland A’s baseball stadium at the port’s Howard Terminal will threaten the kinds of jobs that have supported his family for generations.
The project will disrupt normal port operations, lead to possible job losses and intensify gentrification in the West Oakland neighborhood, Thomas said.
“This really does provide a sterling example of the price of capitalism, when a billionaire wants to build a ballpark and housing at a location that … is the economic engine of the Northern California region,” Thomas said.
Port of Oakland spokesman Mike Zampa said that port commissioners have met extensively with maritime representatives and have heard their concerns about the proposed stadium.
“The Port of Oakland last year adopted a five-year strategic plan that calls for record maritime business growth into the next decade,” Zampa said. “The port will not jeopardize that business.”
The port itself is closed for eight hours Wednesday as part of an annual May Day agreement between union leadership and the port’s terminal operators.
“Labor is not shutting down the port,” Zampa said. “It’s not a strike.”
Oakland’s May Day events kicked off at 6 a.m. when hundreds of construction workers with the Alameda County Building Trades Council and Alameda County Labor Council picketed two non-union building sites near downtown Oakland, then marched to Oakland City Hall for a rally.
The unions are asking the city to require worker protections, including project labor agreements, for projects on publicly owned land, to “enact labor standards and public accountability for building in downtown Oakland” and to prioritize building affordable housing on city land, according to union leadership.
“We really feel Oakland is a union town, was built on the backs of union men and women,” said Andreas Cluver, secretary-treasurer of the Alameda County Building Trades Council. “The Oakland teacher’s strike shows the level of support (unions) have from the residents of this city.”
While not addressing the unions’ requests directly, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf on Wednesday released a statement of praise for unions generally.
“Oakland celebrates May Day because Oakland values and honors our workers,” Schaaf said. “We work hard and champion social justice. Union strength is woven into Oakland’s DNA.”
After the ILWU port rally, union members planned to join the social justice groups for a City Hall rally at 2 p.m. and for a 3:30 p.m. march to the Lake Merritt Amphitheater.
In Concord, demonstrators held signs reading “The rent is too high” as they focused on tenants’ rights and the , saying that they are workers’ rights.
“Families who have been here a really long time, have roots in Concord, are just getting pushed out to unjust evictions and skyrocketing rents. We are here today demanding that the city of concord, who has the power to actually protect tenants from this type of displacement to do something about it,” said Nicole Zapata, one of the march’s organizers.
With just 28 percent of the Bay Area’s homes affordable to families making $100,000 per year, advocates say working class families are getting pushed out of places like Concord.
“I work a lot with the community and there’s been a lot of unjust evictions–there’s been a lot of reports of skyrocketing rents like $400, $600 all at once,” said Cecilia Perez-Mejia with First 5 California, an advocacy group.
Among the crowd marching from Meadowhome Park to Todos Santos Park were two members of the Concord City Council who say they support the cause.
“We need protections to protect families, individuals, seniors who do rent in our community from landlords who do abuse their power – who only want profit and don’t care much about the community within Concord,” said councilmember Dominic Aliano.
“The most important thing about building a community is having people who are committed to our community. We have to people who live here and the longer they live here–the more committed they are to the community,” said councilmember Edi Birsan.
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