Workers from Berkeley’s Pacific Steel go on strike

Workers on strike against Pacific Steel. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

About 470 workers at the Pacific Steel Casting plant went on strike around midnight Monday to protest what they characterized as unfair take-backs by the foundry’s management.

After talks broke down between the owners of Pacific Steel and representatives from Local 164B of the Glass, Molders, and Pottery Union, scores of workers set up pickets in front of the company’s plants on Second Street near Gilman and at a warehouse on Fifth Street.

“We are on strike as of today,” said Carlos Costa, the local rep for the GMP union. “The company gave us a proposition and it was a really bad proposition. The vote was 99 to 1 to reject the proposition and 99 to 1 to go on strike.”

The strikers are protesting over proposed new health care policies. Photo: Mimi Vitetta

Acosta said the company wants its workers to pay a large percentage of their health care costs. Currently, workers do not pay for their health plans but pay for doctors’ visits and prescriptions.  Pacific Steel wants its employees to pay about $1.85 an hour for health coverage. Since the average employee makes about $18 an hour, that is effectively a 10% wage cut, said Costa.

“The company is getting to the point where they are taking too much away from us and not considering us,” said Fred Taylor, who has worked for Pacific Steel for 10 years, most recently doing maintenance in Plant 3.  “There are some guys who work ten to twelve hour days seven days a week. The company unfortunately doesn’t take that kind of loyalty into consideration.”

Elisabeth Jewel, a spokeswoman for the company, declined to comment on the situation.

Pacific Steel Casting company was founded by the Genger family in 1934 and is still owned by descendants of Richard Genger and his son-in-law, Robert Desol.  The company, the third largest foundry in the United States, makes steel parts for trucks, as well as custom molds for other industries. Many members of the workforce have worked at the company for more than 30 years. It is one of the last remaining industries with high-paying jobs in Berkeley.

Throughout the years, nearby residents have complained about noxious odors emanating from the plant. The company has been sued and fined numerous times for emissions, but has spent millions of dollars in recent years to upgrade the three plants.

The tenor of the strike was friendly. There were no bullhorns, and the strikers wandered back and forth good-naturedly in front of the plant.

Truck with flat tire. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

There was one minor act of vandalism, however. Someone let the air out of the tire of a large truck trying to leave the warehouse, prompting Berkeley police to come to Fifth Street shortly before noon.

“They didn’t want this truck to pull out from this third party warehouse,” said Lt. Andrew Greenwood of the Berkeley Police Department. “The air has been let out of the tires so it is relatively immobilized.”

A number of the strikers said the environment of the plant had changed ever since  Robert Delsol died in 2008. One of his daughters, Katie Delsol, took over as executive director and brought in Chuck Bridges, a turn-around specialist, as the chief financial officer. Those changes coincided with the economic decline and a drop-off in orders. Some workers feel the company has lost its family feeling and is becoming increasingly corporate.

Costa, who estimated that the company will lose $2 million each day of the strike, said workers will picket the plants 24 hours a day until the two sides agree on a new contract.

“We are trying to send a message to the company that they guys are here to protect their jobs,” said Costa.

Update:The original version of this story misspelled Carlos Costa’s name as Carols Acosta.

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  • Elizabeth

    Well said Steve! Keep charging forward PSC workers!!!

  • lynn

    today in this age owners have no respect for there workers they want something for nothing.owners forget who really makes the money for them. and if it really came done to it they would have no clue if they had to get in there and run the job and produce the prouduct.psc keep fighting stand your ground. sincerly from another unhappy factory worker from another state

  • Sharkey

    @ Steve — I hope you aren’t referring to me. I absolutely think these workers have a right to strike and I’m glad they’re sticking up for themselves. But I have to disagree with the idea that supporting Unions somehow does anything positive for the regular working Joe these days. It used to be true that non-Union wages & benefits tracked with Union stuff, but it hasn’t been that way for a long, long time now.

  • onlooker!

    Whats going on today?

    And I agree with you Steve, the people coming on here to post that the PSC workers ought to be replaced, how dare they demand a decent wage while others scrape by on starvation minimum wages, blah blah, almost certainly are the beneficiaries of past labor struggles. What those people fail to realize is that every single protection and right that we have as working people (wages, health care, vacation time, the 8 hour day, etc.) is the result of hard fought battles. Only an owner or one of their toadies would claim that workers deserve less.

  • So Sad

    Get this folks…..the union reps told the strikers/workers to go home last night. They haven’t even signed or voted on the new offer and a union rep told them they should go home.He told them they were getting a better deal ….Those boys should have continued to strike until the vote was made! The company is now shipping parts and making money while these boys don’t know what type of an offer is to be made. For all they know, they may be striking again…..problem is the company was able to do business. It looks like someone isn’t thinking in the best interest of the union members. Remember, those union officials still get a paycheck and it is considerably larger than what these guys make (when they are working) I was never a union member, but I know most unions try and take care of their members. So very Sad!

  • Employee

    The union sold us out. I wonder how much money the company gave the union reps to close the deal?

  • Markmorgan53

    With the rising medical cost and the lack of jobs.  What was this Union thinking.  They should be glad to  have a job.  The union rep is the one that should be fired.  No sympathy for you guys.  Stop following your union until the except a lower cost in their wages like you have.

  • Larry Miller

    Chuck was the problem and I think he is still giving bad advice. However, sorry but insurance is only going to get worse one Obama care kicks in. Like 20% or more of your pay. It was a good plant but history is on the wall. Two customers that are looking elsewhere.