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FOUNDRY WORKERS STRIKE TO SAVE THEIR HEALTHCARE
Photos and text by David Bacon

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 Berkeley.

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
night.

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 favoritism.

"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 equipment.

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.

For more articles and images, see  http://dbacon.igc.org

See also Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates
Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants  (Beacon Press,
2008)  Recipient: C.L.R. James Award, best book of
2007-2008
http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=2002

See also the photodocumentary on indigenous migration to
the US   Communities Without Borders (Cornell
University/ILR Press, 2006)
http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/cup_detail.taf?ti_id=
4575

See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the
U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004)
http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/9989.html
-- 

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