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.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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58 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

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

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. @ 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.

  7. 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

  8. Just as a company has the right to set wages, the workers have the right to refuse to accept what’s offered. This is the balance of interests at work in a non-union shop. However, once the workers of a company organize and either form or join an existing union, federal law controls the relationships. The company signs a union contract. Companies do so not because they are forced to, but because a union shop provides as many benefits to the company as it does the workers–stability, predictability, quality standards, safety and community involvement as just a few of those benefits.

    Unfortunately, as evidenced by some of the benighted “fire ’em all” sort of comments here, we have many people in this country whose limited intellects make them captives of the 19’th century. They can’t understand that every labor protection they enjoy came from the organized labor movement. They have no concept of what it is to earn a decent wage, since Wal-Mart and McDonald’s don’t allow those words to be spoken on the premises. They never read stock market reports, so how could they possibly even guess that American corporations are earning at record levels of profits, while the wages of the middle class has been on steady decline for the past 30 years.

    Wise up, folks. The Business Class always cry poverty with two loaves of bread under each arm. Support the Union and you save your own job and way of life down the line.

  9. @ Bruce — I think you’re mixing up who’s holding what sign, probably because this version of the video is a shaky camera recording a television broadcast of a shaky camera recording of the event.

    In the clearer version of the shot shown on the news you can see that the woman is holding the stick on her sign in two hands and brandishing it towards the officer. I can’t say if she made contact with the officer or not, but the protester was brandishing the stick at the officer before she was struck.

    What do you suggest a Police officer do in that situation that you would not consider “excessive use of force”?

  10. “Well I didn’t smell the factory today! Yay, keep up the strike, keep the heavy metals out of the air!”
    I second that!

  11. We all need REAL healthcare not a giant race to the bottom, a competition for who is the worse off. Union Workers are not the enemy. Public sector workers are not the enemy. The real enemy, the banksters of Wall Street are all getting off scott free while we the people all claw at each other. They are laughing all the way to the bank at how easily we can be manipulated into turning on each other!

  12. Sharkey wrote: “The clip I saw on KTVU looked like the woman was refusing to move when asked, and then struck the officer with her sign when he began pushing her out of the way.”

    A clip from the scene if available here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cT4xgPM79iw

    and merits close examination. The woman did not strike an officer with her sign. Without any violent provocation the officer punches her gut with the baton. (It goes by very quickly, I’ll warn you.) Others step in to defend her and, while picket signs do thrash about at that point, they are being pulled away from the police as other workers attempt to put their bodies between the police and that woman.

  13. @ MRR — Maybe the workers should leave en masse and start their own worker-owned co-op company. It’s a business model that seems to work very well for a few other businesses in Berkeley, and I bet it could work just as well for a manufacturing business like this one.

  14. The clip I saw on KTVU looked like the woman was refusing to move when asked, and then struck the officer with her sign when he began pushing her out of the way. I wouldn’t say that’s cause to strike her with a baton, but she probably could have been arrested for it.

  15. It’s funny how these kids got handed a MULTI-MILLION dollar company for doing absolutley nothing yet still want to make even more. The workers are the ones who do EVERYTHING putting their sweat and tears into each and every part, yet they are the ones who get handed the short end of the stick. These workers don’t ask for anything but a fair contract that will simply allow each and everyone of their families to survive in this tough economy. Not to mention that the Bay Area is one of the most expensive places to live in the world. Medical and fair wage scale should not be an issue for these men and women who break their backs each and every day to those who live such a blessed life style.

  16. my dad works at this company he is a welder and we find it un fair for them to try passing this new contract..there was also a man wich is my uncle arested for supposely braking a window wich he did not and there is a vidioe showing the pregnet woman geting hit 2 by the police and the man showing his brose from defending the woman.my dad was there during the whole time and was pretty upset
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cT4xgPM79iw

  17. Neighbors think they can smell it…….well try breathing it in everyday or bringing it home on your clothes to expose your family to it. All we are trying to do is make an honest living in a costly Bay Area. […]

    This comment has been moderated and edited because it fell foul of Berkeleyside’s comment policy.

  18. The KQED report is also, at least they claim so, an eyewitness account and jibes with onlooker!’s second hand account.

  19. History as prologue?

    John Seal reported on Berkeleyside a film with a strikingly similar theme issued in 1962 entitled, “Tear Gas in Law Enforcement”:

    https://berkeleyside-newspack.newspackstaging.com/2010/05/04/big-screen-berkeley-locally-grown-produce-2/#comments

    Panning back to the furious mob, we see this: Western Steel – Division United States Steel – Berkeley Plant. Wow! It’s 1962, we have a multi-racial crowd demonstrating in Berkeley, and here come the gas-masked fuzz to break it up! It’s like a dress rehearsal for the end of the decade, only with well-groomed demonstrators.

  20. Thanks for the update sharkey, thats good news.

    My hazy reports came from several eyewitnesses at the scene who were really shocked by the actions of this police officer. They said the other cops were pushing strikers but not by jabbing their batons into them, unlike this one cop. Clearly this one individual did something out of protocol, but at the same time I don’t subscribe to the one bad apple view and you don’t need to look too deeply through American history to find a tradition of police working on behalf of owners and against workers, often with violent results. But thats a tangent

  21. @ onlooker! — The last word about the pregnant protester is that she was taken to the hospital and appears to have suffered no serious injury.

    It’s a shame anybody was hit with anything. Unlike those who love to rush to attack the Police, I’ll wait until we have more information before jumping all over them since we only have hazy reports at this time.

  22. Does anyone know the status of the pregnant woman who was attacked by our boys in blue this morning? It sounded like one cop went after her in an entirely unnecessary manner, if so this officer needs to be fired. Apparently its on video, someone please post a link to it.

  23. It’s telling that so many of the commenters here throw out the same tired lines about workers needing to remain docile, appreciate their ability to survive economically, and take the medicine their boss gives them. The diminishing of labor rights doesn’t keep jobs here, it doesn’t make companies loyal to their community, it doesn’t in any way remove the desire of the owners to maximize their profits, in good times and bad. People on this thread are saying that $18 bucks an hour is plenty, but why are we able to judge these workers’ wages but not know what the company is making? It sounds like a decent family company changed as soon as the original owner died and the kids took over and hired an axeman.

    The pollution of the forge is a separate issue, I am unaware about workers and neighbors health and safety, it is important of course. It is understandable that the workers didn’t want the plant closed down, and this reasoning should not be used to discredit their fight right now.

  24. It’s interesting that the union is characterizing their grievances as unfair take-backs by PSC management, specifically the issue of employee contribution to health care costs. In fact during the previous contract negotiations this issue was addressed and agreed upon that employee contribution would begin when a certain figure was reached. Fortunately for union membership this did not become necessary until the very end of the previous contract. The supposed unfair take-back by management is to change the calculation of contribution to an equation instead of a hard ceiling for employer contribution, which by the way is 4 times the employees contribution and larger than the agreed upon figure from the previous contract. I fail to see the take-back, future increases would be jointly addressed by both parties instead of just passed along to the employee after the employers ceiling is met. The take-back would seem to be on the union side in that that have developed selective amnesia to what they signed off on previously and want the company to pick up the whole tab.

  25. Well, looks like we’ve figured out who the resident Anti-Cop troll is.

    I was wondering when Berkeleyside would get one of those.

  26. Another thing…it appears that management rented that warehouse and moved parts without the knowledge of the union…..

    It sounds more and more like the BPD (perhaps it now stands for Berkeley Pinkerton Detectives) are in big trouble.

  27. The pay these guys receive is ridiculously low for theBay Area, especially considering what they do. They received pay cuts last year when things were slow. The business at PSC has picked up and they have been working 6 days a week.(the company says it is losing 2 million per day during the strike—this says a lot about how PSC is doing!They are definitely making money) Give these guys their pay back. The contract offer that was made included NO raises for this year and ten cents an hour next year. Hello—-management is asking for 10% of their pay for healthcare. Yes, most of us have to pay a portion of our health care costs, but most of us make a bit more than 18$ an hour. By the way starting pay is 11$. The health care issue is just part of the reason they are striking.
    AND…..Non union bosses make six figures, if they pay out of pocket for part of their health care, at least they can afford it. If it weren’t for the guys in the union this company would be nothing….Management should remember where they started and Katie should realize that if it weren’t for these guys she would not have all she has had in her life. Her dad seemed to appreciate these guys… Now, it is all about what is going in their pockets.
    Another thing…it appears that management rented that warehouse and moved parts without the knowledge of the union…..

  28. Wow, a lot of people are anti-union. I’m not in one, but I definitely wouldn’t want to work at a steel plant for $16/hour.

  29. @Guy, are you trying to claim that this is an unalwful secondary picket under the National Labor Relation’s Act? What you said: “The pictures featured in this story were taken in front of a 3rd parties warehouse, which is in no way owned, operated or staffed by PSC employees,” does not in and of itself determine whether or not this is an illegal secondary picket.

  30. Bruce Love says: “Two things are wrong with it, in my view: It tends to defame the strikers and it tends to create a climate in which strikers have legitimate doubt that they enjoy equal protection under the law.”

    1.) No, it doesn’t. It states a fact – that they received a call alleging something – without stating attributing guilt to anyone.
    2.) Why would they have any doubts about it when they have not been treated unfairly?

    Get a grip.

  31. I did, and it does not change the laws.
    It also does not change the fact that striking PSC employees are breaking them.
    Can you explain how forcing the local police to come out in riot gear helps our situation?

  32. The warehouses have been stocked with PSC parts (which the union workers made over the past several months) in these “3rd party owned” warehouses. Did you know that “A guy that knows”?

  33. The pictures featured in this story were taken in front of a 3rd parties warehouse, which is in no way owned, operated or staffed by PSC employees.
    the actions they are taking are illegal and I hope they realize that.

    I would think that the autor/editor of this story and the union would have a little more attention to detail, oh wait their union.

  34. @Frances, thank you for the follow-up. I’d like to explain why I do think there is a problem with that email.

    I don’t think the distinction between a “formal press release” and “an email” is legally important here. An official spokesperson for the department communicated to the press on record under color of law. So the question is then is there anything wrong with that sentence “We just received a call that they are being non-compliant (10:55 am)”?

    Two things are wrong with it, in my view: It tends to defame the strikers and it tends to create a climate in which strikers have legitimate doubt that they enjoy equal protection under the law.

    It tends to defame in a kind of “where there is smoke there must be fire” way. You yourself have now reported that but a single ticket was issued (and I assume you mean to a striker). They were evidently not “non-compliant” in any meaningful way. Yet the seeds of doubt are implanted in an easily inflamed public with strong passions about labor issues (as you can see from the other comments).

    The email also tends to call equal protection into question in light of the earlier sentence: “As Union activity is protected barring no illegal activity, BPD will respond to calls and make the necessary assessments, liaison with the leaders, follow policy and a Sergeant will be involved in the responses to the calls. ”

    That sentence establishes that the police are cognizant and cautious regarding union rights, but it also describes a posture of giving the behavior of the strikers extra strict scrutiny. The breathless report of a “just received” call adds to that impression. This raises questions of selective enforcement.

    The police don’t have to pull a Pinkerton and go in with clubs to break the strike to be on the wrong side of things here. If they act and speak so as to sway public opinion in a political way, and if they call into question the equal protection of union workers, they are already interfering with the right to strike.

  35. Not to read too much into the photos of the strikers or to violate any politically correct taboos, but most of the picketers milling about do not appear to be a particularly “diverse” group of people. The Bay Area is a famously diverse community and both in South and West Berkeley and in adjoining communities like Oakland and Richmond, there is a rich tapestry of African Americans, various Asian immigrant groups and working class whites (among others).

    Unemployment knows no color line, but it has hit some of these groups harder than others (whether due to racial bias or other factors). Hard working people, eager for work come from all groups, backgrounds and genders. In an ideal employment environment, the work force would roughly reflect the overall diversity of the community. While the photos might be misleading (?), I am surmising that the majority (possibly vast majority) of the striking workers are not native born Americans whose first language is English…

    If so, that seems like a side of the story worth telling as well.

  36. @Arlene – Glad to hear the company men have to finally get dirty and work. Maybe it will help them appreciate the hard labor that those on strike endure every day. Yes, they should be grateful for having a job but they should also be compensated for their efforts.

  37. @Bruce I communicated with Sgt Mary Kusmiss of the Berkeley Police Department who reported that she had received a number of calls inquiring about the strike activities. There had been one misdemeanor arrest, where someone was cited and given a ticket, and the activities were right off busy Gilman. The email she sent out was not a formal press release but just that, an email. I know I shoot her numerous emails each week asking about this case or that, and it surely is replicated by all the reporters covering the Bay Area. So she probably was just letting people know what was going on. By any stretch of the imagination, I don’t see how an email violates the civil rights of union members. No one was trying to stop the strikers federally-protected right to picket.

  38. I hope the strike stops soon! The company men are having to work extra hard :(. My father is a hard worker as it is. Get over Acosta your going to loose so tell your union to get back to work and stop wasting there time!!!!! They all should be grateful for having a job!!! There hard to come by now these days! Thank you dad for your hard work keep it up! Hopefully these hard headed strikers realize there not going to get any better they will return to work

  39. Hmmm… I recall a community meeting at the West Berkeley Senior Center where PSC’s president, Joe Emmerichs, made an unqualified statement that PSC workers have never gotten sick. I always suspected that might not be true. 🙂

  40. Solidarity from a UC Berkeley student! Don’t let any of these fools in the comments get you down. The boss needs you! You don’t need the boss!

  41. Well I didn’t smell the factory today! Yay, keep up the strike, keep the heavy metals out of the air!

  42. Alex, you are saying that the company is paying you to not cross the picket line but presumably more than what you would get signing up for strike pay from the union?

  43. I’m a local neighbor and an employee. I don’t agree with the strike because i feel the company takes care of me and my family. They know how hard i work so they are paying me during the strike so i stay home. Thank you Joe Emmerichs

  44. I am sure many many people would like those jobs right now. As quoted in the article: “One of the highest paying jobs in Berkeley”. Besides $18 an hour it seems there are good benefits which many of us do not have. Is Berkeley Steel accepting applications?

  45. Frances, thanks and that all makes sense. Sgt. Kusmiss does a lot of things very well, as far as I can tell – I’m not trying to make some blanket condemnation of her. I think that press release has the glaring technical error (reporting a “call” without any kind of public safety justification) and that the nature of that error and the general tone of that release really raises questions about BPD’s neutrality wrt. unions.

    It alarmed the heck out of me on all kinds of constitutional and civil law grounds etc. (I presume that Kusmiss is herself a member of a union so don’t take me as oversimplifying, please).

  46. I currently work at Pacific Steel Casting Company. The line of work these employees do are not your average warehouse work. We deal with large castings that require a lot of attention to detail and 100% genuine, hard to beat quality from the time of manufacture to distribution. All steel castings made for our loyal customers are critical components and serve for a good purpose in the growth of this economy. The majority of union positions within Pacific Steel are dangerous and require safety awareness at all times. I am not asking for full benefits paid. we, the employees are asking for a fair contract that have a even balance of benefits and pay raises for entire term of contract. I’m not going to get into pay raises offered in this contract but in my opinion is unfair for this current, fragile economy. The cost of living is going up in all areas and every one wants to work and make a decent living to withstand future economic changes.

  47. Bruce, that’s an interesting interpretation. When I went down to Fifth Street, Berkeley police were calm and were just observing the strikers. They had about three cars and another blocking the street from incoming traffic. Police pointed out the flat tire, but other than that, the strikers seemed to be obeying the law.
    It was one of the calmest strikes I have ever seen. There wasn’t even any chanting. I think the press release may have been aimed at alerting the media about the strike because the union didn’t notify anyone.

  48. The Berkeley Daily Planet provides a press release from the Berkeley Police Department that I think shows BPD violating the civil rights of the striking workers and opening up the City to civil litigation.

    http://berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2011-03-16/article/37538?headline=Labor-Action-on-Second-Street-Between-Page-and-Gilman-

    GMP Union Local 164B is having a labor action between Page Street and Gilman. The group is picketing for fair wages and healthcare benefits. The Union leadership anticipates approximately 100 picketers at a time on 6 hour shifts around the clock until the issues are resolved. They have and are carrying signs but as of yet have no amplified sound. (bullhorns or the like)

    The daytime contact is Carlos Acosta. A graveyard shift Sergeant had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Acosta who assured that they would be peaceful activity. The Sergeant advised him to be respectful of the businesses and not to block vehicular access on 2nd Street or any adjacent Streets. As Union activity is protected barring no illegal activity, BPD will respond to calls and make the necessary assessments, liaison with the leaders, follow policy and a Sergeant will be involved in the responses to the calls.

    We just received a call that they are being non-compliant. (10:55 a.m.)

    (emphasis added.)

    In this instance Berkeley Police Department has issued a press release forwarding an unsubstantiated and at the time of issue apparently uninvestigated allegation of criminal activity against specific individuals. No prevailing urgent public interest in forwarding that allegation is evident in the unusual release.

  49. This is why Americans lose jobs.

    If you can’t understand why management can’t accept rising health costs, you shouldn’t be surprised to find everyone unemployed.

    It’s NOT your employer’s fault. It’s a national problem and there is no simple answer. Even universal coverage is NOT enough to stop rising health care costs.

    What is? We must all ration health care and slow down the cost.

    As for this union’s strike, I say fire them all.

  50. Each time a union employer cuts wages, the effect is to lower everyone elses. The non union employer then says well I’ve got to cut your wages since the union shop lowered theirs. It’s a trickle down effect and it’s no good. I may not be in a union, but I would be in one if I could and the strikers have my sympathy.

  51. I am a small business owner, and our health insurance costs have increased about 50% in the last five years. We used to cover 100% of the premium for our employees, but just this year started requiring them to pay a small proportion. It’s a shame, and I wish we didn’t have to do it, but we just can’t afford not to. I hope at least those who are striking are also marching for / writing letters in support of the healthcare bill, because the only bad guy in this situation is the out of control health insurance industry.

  52. These workers may have legitimate grievances but, unfortunately thanks to the rampant abuse of Union privileges in public employee unions, they are unlikely to get much sympathy right now.