Spring is coming soon, but baseball season in the San Francisco Bay Area has been disrupted.
Oil giant Tesoro is locking out 600 youth baseball players from practicing on 15 fields located next to its refinery in Martinez, California. As part of a nationwide work stoppage involving some 7,000 workers, the Martinez workers have been on strike since Feb. 2, with regular pickets from the United Steelworkers and their allies protesting health and safety conditions.
“It’s for the safety of the kids and the parents and spectators that would have to cross picket lines,” Tesoro spokeswoman Patricia Deutsche explained to the local press. “We just don’t have to expose them to any negative interactions.”
In another interview, Deutsche specifically mentioned the threat of outside agitators from groups like Occupy, the California Nurses Association and Communities for a Better Environment, a group that works on environmental justice issues affecting low-income and minority communities.
These groups insist they pose no threat to children.
“This is a PR stunt,” said Nile Malloy, Northern California program director for Communities for a Better Environment. “It’s just really sad -- like, really? … Everybody who protests is peaceful. They’re there to demonstrate solidarity with the workers, to protect the health and safety of the community, the climate.”
“Nurses are a threat to kids playing baseball?” said Charles Idelson, spokesman for the CNA. “How disgraceful [for Tesoro] to be blaming anybody else but themselves.”
Tracy Scott, staff representative with USW Local 5, which represents striking workers at the refinery, has pointed out that the picket lines are at the plant’s main gates -- not the entrance to baseball fields.
"There's just absolutely no way we'd picket a Little League field,” Scott told the Vallejo Times-Herald.
Tesoro spokeswoman Tina Barbee told International Business Times “there have been reports of strike-related incidents deemed to be unsafe at the gates of our refinery and in the areas near the facility’s ballfields.” But when asked for more information about the “strike-related incidents,” Barbee said she did not “have additional details to share.”
The baseball league has rented fields from Tesoro for 40 years. In the meantime, teams have crowded into other city and school facilities to practice. The commissioner, Pattie Behmlander, hopes for a quick resolution to the labor dispute since “having that many teams running around getting on the same pieces of property isn’t safe.”
Negotiations for a new contract resume Wednesday between the USW and Shell, which is leading talks on behalf of the industry. The last nationwide refinery strike was in 1980.
Opening day is March 21.