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The Pacific Steel Casting Situation (News Analyis)

By Steve Martinot
Tuesday February 14, 2012 - 07:33:00 AM

People are back in the streets because of Pacific Steel Casting Company. In the past, it has been the issue of pollution. The workers have struck over the issue of health and safety (the same issue, as seen from inside). And now, some 200 workers are protesting unjust job termination, owing to intervention by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), in violation of the spirit of Berkeley as a sanctuary city. This factory remains a problem. There will be a march to publicize this problem on Friday, Feb. 17. 

Here's a bit of the story (aka history). 

The factory is a foundry, opened in 1934. It is the fourth largest foundry in the US. 

Last Feb, 2011, ICE demanded that the company provide I-9 info (Employment Eligibility Verification Form, for checking on resident status) for all employees, known as an I-9 audit. ICE didn't begin its audit until October, 2011, and submitted its report in Jan, 2012. The result of the report was that 200 workers were fired for not passing ICE muster, that is, not having proper residency. The plant employs some 600 people, of which 575 are in the union, a local of the Glass, Molders, and Pottery Union. The company has affirmed that there are upwards of 30 different nationalities represented among its employees. 

In June 2011, Berkeley City Council requested that Pacific Steel Casting not cooperate with ICE, because the I-9 audit could result in people losing their jobs, which would mean grave hardship for them and their families, and be detrimental for the overall employment and economic picture of the city of Berkeley. Berkeley again affirmed that it was a city of refuge (sanctuary), which means it provides services to all residents, regardless of status, and that would include the same standards of job security that all other workers have. Indeed, one worker, who has worked at Pacific Steel for 12 years, has recently been accepted for a kidney transplant at UCSF, having suffered from kidney disease years earlier. Without it, his life is threatened. But since he was one of the workers fired, UCSF is saying that they will not do the transplant, since he lost his health insurance. In other words, ICE and Pacific Steel are threatening his life. 

There had been a strike in March, 2011, because the company was demanding reduction in health benefits. The work is hard, the conditions toxic (as in any foundry), and people are forced to work without a break. One former employee, Roberto Rodriguez, who worked at Pacific Steel for 40 years and retired, is suing the company for several million dollars. The money he is demanding is back pay for having to work during contgract-provided lunch and coffeebreak periods. He is also suing for damage to his health from the pollution in the factory. 

There has been an on-going campaign among people in the neighborhood against the toxicity of the emissions from the factory. In 2006, several large marches of hundreds of people occurred targetting the factory, demanding that the factory stop polluting the area. A suit was filed demanding compliance with environemtnal law, and compensation to neighbors who have suffered harm and injury because of the factory. A spokesperson for the factory has stated that the anti-pollution suit of 2006 could force Pacific Steel into financial ruin, and thus reducing city employment. The pollution situation remains as it had been for the community near the plant, and the neighborhood continues struggling against the problem. 

In response to those who accuse immigrants of taking “American workers” jobs, it doesn’t appear that there are many people from the vicinity of the factory who are clamoring to be hired there. The workers fired from the plant last month are requesting support for being rehired on the basis of (1) they have been unjustly denied their jobs which they need and deserve as much as anyone else; (2) Berkeley is a sanctuary city because it believes that all people should have the same human rights, the main one being survival, for which one needs an income, and thus a job, and (3) they have been fighting their own struggle for cleaner and safer conditions in the plant, which links them to the neighborhood's own struggle. 

There will be a march by the workers fired from Pacific Steel on Friday, Feb. 17. They are asking that all people who believe in the primacy of human rights to join them in support. The march will begin after a rally at MLK Park in Berkeley (civic center, opposite City Hall) at 10 am, and proceed to the Pacific Steel plant. 


Steve Martinot