Wednesday, March 23, 2011

[olympiaworkers] Foundry Workers Strike To Save Their Healthcare

by David Bacon
Wednesday Mar 23rd, 2011

BERKELEY, CA 3/22/10 -- A strike of over 450 workers in one of the largest
foundries on the west coast brought production to a halt Sunday night, at
Pacific Steel Castings. The work stoppage, which began at midnight, has
continued with round the clock picketing at the factory gates in west

Local 164B of the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers
International Union (GMP) has been negotiating a new labor agreement at
Pacific Steel for several months. The old agreement expired on Sunday

The strike was caused by demands from the company's owners for concessions
and takeaway proposals in contract negotiations. Those include:

- requiring workers to pay at least 20% of the cost of their medical
insurance, amounting to about $300 per month per employee.

- a wage freeze for the first two years of the agreement, and tiny raises
after that.

- eliminating the ability of workers to use their seniority to bid for
overtime, allowing criteria including speedup, discrimination and

"All eight other foundries in the Bay Area have agreed to a fair
contract," said Ignacio De La Fuente, GMP international vice-president.
"Workers at Pacific Steel haven't had a raise in the last two years, in
order to help the company pay for increases in health plan costs. Pacific
Steel is now alone among the rest in trying to make its workers give back
$300 a month."

The $300/month would mean an approximately 10% cut in wages for most
workers at the foundry.

Joel Soto, a member of the union's negotiating committee, has worked eight
years at Pacific Steel, and has a wife, 2-year-old child and another on
the way. Soto said, "We've been trying to save money for a house. If we
have to give up $300 a month, we'll have to continue renting. My wife and
I both support our parents, and that $300 cut is what we're able to give
them now that they're old. And with my wife pregnant, we can't do without
that medical care."

Benito Navarro has ten years at the foundry, and a wife and son. "That
$300 is what I pay for my car to get to work. I'm the only one in my
family working, so if we don't have that money, I'll have to give up the
car. But I'd rather eat than drive."

On both Monday and Tuesday dozens of Berkeley police, with helmets and
face shields, shoved and hit strikers as they attempted to help the
company bring trucks full of castings out of its struck facility. On
Tuesday, one striker, Norma Garcia, who is seven months pregnant, was
struck in the abdomen and taken to a hospital.

"It is inexcusable that Berkeley is spending precious municipal resources
on providing protection for this business, and opening the city to
liability through these unprovoked actions by police against strikers,"
said De La Fuente.

"That violence isn't necessary," added Soto. "We're just struggling for
our rights. I wouldn't be so surprised to see this in other cities, but
Berkeley?" Another worker showed the swelling on his arm he said was
caused by a blow from a police baton.

Workers feel additionally betrayed by the company because they and their
union testified before the Berkeley City Council three years ago. They
urged the city to draft environmental regulations that would allow the
foundry to continue operating while installing needed pollution control

Pacific Steel Casting Co. is a privately held corporation, the
third-largest steel foundry in the United States. Its large corporate
customers include vehicle manufacturers, like Petebilt Corp., and big oil
companies, including BARCO. The company has been very productive in recent
years, despite the recession. It chose not to comment.


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