The Rev. Jesse Jackson brought his protest of BP PLC to the site of one of the state's worst refinery accidents Tuesday to speak against what he calls price gouging, discriminatory hiring practices and unsafe working conditions at the company.
He led about 100 spirited followers on a march in front of BP's Texas City refinery, where 15 workers were killed and more than 170 were injured in an explosion last year.
''We are going to engage in direct action against BP to change their behavior,'' Jackson said. ''They need to stop energy exploitation, stop manipulating prices and undercutting the American people.''
Late last week federal investigators said that traders at Britain-based BP cornered the U.S. propane market in the winter of 2004 to manipulate prices, which drove up heating costs for rural consumers.
A few days before that announcement a group of black leaders led by Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton announced a boycott of BP. Jackson said BP was chosen as a target for the boycott because none of its upper-level executives are black and there are no black owners among its hundreds of U.S. distributors.
''If you see an Amoco or Arco station, honk your horns and keep driving,'' he told the cheering crowd.
BP said 1,535, or 24 percent, of its officials and managers in the United States in 2005 were minorities, including 614 blacks. Thirty percent of new hires from universities the past two years were minorities.
''I would say that diversity and inclusion are part of the corporate DNA of BP,'' company spokesman Ronnie Chappell said Tuesday. ''Two distinguished African Americans'' serve on BP's global board, he said.
''We see having a diverse work force as a competitive advantage,'' Chappell said. ''That extends beyond race to gender and sexual orientation.''
Chappell said rising crude prices were the main force behind higher gasoline prices and were out of the company's control. ''When it comes to crude prices we are price takers, not price makers,'' he said.
During Jackson's speech and the march, which was abbreviated because of a downpour, protesters held signs that bore the logo of Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition and said things like: ''BP Safety Hazard, Honk for Lower Gas and Honor Civil Rights.'' Some chanted ''Safety'' and ''Lower gas prices.''
Jackson discussed the deaths that occurred in the blast and said he doesn't believe the Texas City refinery is safe, despite a fine of $21.3 million after the accident by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for violations of its rules.
Marchers included people from the United Steelworkers of America and others in the community who are concerned about safety inside the plant.
''I'm here because I don't like the way they're treating these people,'' said Lewis Adams, a lifelong Texas City resident. ''They aren't making it safe for those people that work in these plants.''
Chappell said the company is upgrading equipment at the Texas City plant and has taken steps to improve safety.
Jackson said all Americans should be concerned about energy issues.
''If you're white, black or brown, we are all victims of the energy monopolization, price gouging and greed,'' he said. ''The American public has been too silent. We must fight back to drive down the price of gas.''
Though his primary target is BP, he also wants to send a message to the government that they should step in to limit gas prices.
''We're going to be marching in 50 cities until we drive the price of gas down,'' he said. ''I want the government to hear us and make a commitment to cap the cost of gas and fuel, a commitment to enforce safety and health laws.''
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