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ILWU, Community Coalition, Defeats Proposed Baseball Stadium on Oakland Waterfront

Stadium redevelopment project posed threat to waterfront jobs and regional economic engine 

By Melvin Mackay ILWU Local 10 | Photo courtesy of

In late 2018, the Oakland A’s, the Mayor of Oakland, Alameda County Supervisors, building and construction trades, local business leaders, state legislators, and the Commissioners at the Port of Oakland formed an impressive and formidable unified front when all of them joined together to announce that they wanted to eliminate a large swath of the working, industrial Oakland waterfront.   This elimination was to have taken place to accommodate the plan of the billionaire owner of the Oakland A’s, John Fisher, to turn Howard Terminal into a miniature version of the gentrified San Francisco waterfront – complete with new condominiums, office towers, and hotels, in addition to a baseball stadium meant to compete with the Giants’ stadium across the Bay.

The A’s envisioned fans sailing in the Oakland navigational channel with an “armada” of boats, watching fireworks and listening to music on party barges in the turning basin, shifting freight rail traffic to non-game days, and replacing truck routes with bicycle lanes and new sidewalks for fans – and shutting down a facility under longshore jurisdiction and the home of a PMA-ILWU training center.  The stadium project also threatened the viability of cargo movements at other terminals in Oakland, increased congestion, and the promise of a future larger turning basin, which is critical to maintaining the Port of Oakland’s competitiveness. 

In the face of overwhelming political odds, the ILWU stood firm and fought for its members.  We also became a founding member of an unprecedented coalition of every major waterfront group that had a stake in the future of the Port of Oakland.  This group was made up of a whole swath of maritime labor, including ILWU locals, the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU), Masters, Mates & Pilots (MM&P), Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, Marine Firemen, and more. We began meeting first at the IBU hall in San Francisco and then at MM&P in Oakland.  Joining us were maritime, trucking, and railroad groups, including the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, Harbor Trucking Association, California Trucking Association, and the Union Pacific Railroad, plus individual local Oakland companies like Schnitzer Steel and GSC Logistics, Cool Fresh, and BNSF Railroad.

We named ourselves the East Oakland Stadium Alliance (EOSA) and hired a public affairs firm, Berg Davis, led by Jessica Berg and Evette Davis.   EOSA was founded in response to the Oakland A’s plans for a private ballpark and luxury real estate development at Howard Terminal. We led with the belief that it is in the best interest of Oakland residents, the seaport, the Oakland A’s, and its fans for a new, state-of-the-art major league baseball stadium to be constructed at the Coliseum site in East Oakland.   With that as our goal, we also worked closely with other community and environmental groups in Oakland, including progressive Democratic clubs, the Oakland NAACP, the Sierra Club, Bay Keeper, Save the Bay, and various churches and other active grassroots volunteers.   We were aided by the fact that A’s owner, John Fisher, has been a funder of groups attempting to privatize Oakland schools and promote school privatization nationally, which brought several other activists and the Oakland Education Association to rally with us against more privatization in Oakland.

We were not afraid to take on the powerful interests intent on building a stadium on the Oakland waterfront. Working with the other maritime stakeholders, we set out to protect our jobs and jurisdiction.  When we started EOSA, people outside of the waterfront gave us long odds of stopping this development.  They saw the ILWU and our industry partners as the David against an unstoppable Goliath. We were told this was a done deal. But the coalition persisted in our fight for almost 5 years. Opinion polls showed that the project was vulnerable to public concerns over the use of taxpayer funds for this project – a prerequisite of Fisher to make the project work.  We participated in two different lawsuits against the A’s project, one against the City of Oakland’s Environmental Impact Report and the other against the State of California’s Bay Conservation Development Commission (BCDC), both of which are still pending, and which ultimately threw significant monkey wrenches into the overly-optimistic development timelines for the project. 

Throughout these fights, the ILWU Locals 6, 10, 34, 75, 91, and the IBU were present so that voices could be heard as was Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO.

Mike Parent and Joulene Parent from ILWU Canada came to one of our rallies to show support and solidarity to prevent Howard Terminal from becoming a baseball stadium, hotel, and entertainment complex. We were able to bring out the rank and file and the community. We made sure the volume at the Port Of Oakland was turned up loud so that our voices were heard, and our message was clear: The Port of Oakland is vital to the region’s economy and not for sale. 

We brought hundreds of people to City Council meetings, state meetings of the BCDC, rallies, press events, tours, and more.   Longshore labor voices were necessary to counter other labor voices in the building and construction trades and the existing union labor at the current Coliseum that realized that Fisher’s tactic of threatening to move the team and his “Howard Terminal or Bust” rhetoric wasn’t just posturing.  Fisher intentionally set up labor vs. labor fights, city vs. city competition, and business vs. business in his chase for maximum public subsidies for his stadium.

In the end and against the odds, the A’s ultimately abandoned their quest to gentrify the Oakland waterfront.  The EOSA coalition outlasted and outfought the A’s. Our coalition of labor and community groups was built on the  ILWU’s conviction that our jobs on the waterfront are unique, irreplaceable, and critical to the economic health of the entire Bay Area.

Although the A’s move to Las Vegas is all but inevitable with the recent unanimous vote by Major League Baseball in favor of the team’s relocation, we must remain vigilant to ensure no new efforts are made by the City and the Port of Oakland to once again attempt to repurpose maritime industrial property for housing or entertainment venues.   Our coalition of maritime, transportation, logistics, labor, and community stakeholders can continue working towards one common goal: the long-term viability of the Port of Oakland and ensuring that the working waterfront continues to be a vibrant hub of Oakland and the Bay Area economy.

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