Police square off against protesters. Photo: Michelle Vitetta

The two clashing sides in the Pacific Steel Casting strike returned to the bargaining table on Wednesday, a day after Berkeley police resorted to tough tactics to push back a group of strikers from a warehouse on Fifth Street.

On Tuesday, about 100 strikers gathered outside a warehouse to prevent a truck filled with parts from the Pacific Steel foundry from leaving. Police attempted to clear away the protesters and a pregnant woman claimed she was struck in the stomach by an officer during the confrontation, according to Sgt. Mary Kusmiss of the Berkeley Police Department. She was treated at a local hospital and released.

“Today at a couple points, CMT (Crowd Management Team) members were asking the crowd/picketers to move back, stop blocking the roadway and the entrance to the shipping/freight business,” Sgt. Kusmiss wrote in a press release. “The crowd was asked to get back and many warnings were given. Each time a member of a skirmish line moves forward as a group, they are trained to say, “Move!, Step Back. Move.!” Force was used. A woman (who shared that she was pregnant) was at the front of the crowd and was pushed back on the shoulder a couple times by a CMT member. The crowd began to surge and the woman said she was struck in the stomach by an officer.”

Pregnant Pacific Steel worker struck by police. Photo: Michelle Vitetta

While the three plants of Pacific Steel are on Second Street, the strikers have been focusing their protests on a warehouse owned by another company, according to Ignacio De La Fuente, a vice president of the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers International Union and an Oakland City Council member. The owners of Pacific Steel, the Delsole family, in anticipation of a strike, moved completed steel components to this third-party location so they could be trucked out, he said. The workers have been trying to prevent the parts from being shipped, he said.

Elisabeth Jewel, a spokeswoman for the company, has said the company will have no comment about the strike or labor negotiations.

Carlos Costa, the local union rep of Local 164B, which represents the workers, said Tuesday that he expected the company to serve him shortly with a subpoena. De La Fuente said the company is trying to get a temporary restraining order against the strikers. He said the company had hired more than 50 private security guards who deliberately confronted the strikers on Monday. There was a film crew on hand to tape any fights, which De La Fuente said could be presented to a judge in support of a TRO.

A federal mediator has been appointed and is working to bring the two sides to an agreement, said De La Fuente.

About 470 workers walked off the job Monday at midnight after contract negotiations broke down. The company is asking its employees to pay a higher share of their medical costs. Union officials said the co-pay’s proposed are so high they would amount to a 10% salary reduction.

Related:
Workers from Berkeley’s Pacific Steel go on strike [03.21.11]

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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4 Comments

  1. As a mother, I think the woman is so foolish to be in frontline of this chao. Her priority should be for her kid that’s in her. If she is my friend, I would tell her to stay home. There are people who is willing to use her pregnancy as a human shield. I would never risk my kid’s safety for any for any money or contract.

  2. I don’t understand how any American can read something like this and not blame corporations for taking themselves to China.

    If you make business impossible to do in this country, you will lose all jobs and entrepreneurs. It’s outrageous that unions are allowed to picket and block access. You should stand up against it.

  3. @ Bruce — Based on the video from the protesters that KTVU broadcast, the woman who was struck by a Police officer refused to comply with Police orders to move, and then struck a BPD officer with her sign when he/she attempted to push her out of the way.

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

  4. Kusmiss wrote (emphasis added):

    “Today, March 22, 2011 City of Berkeley Police Officers (BPD) specifically our Crowd Management Team (CMT) who have specialized training in crowd management, crowd dynamics and behavior were monitoring the labor activity to insure a peaceful expression of the union membership’s rights and also making certain that there is no unlawful activity during these events. The CMT leadership estimated the crowd size between 100-125 participants. The focus of the picketers attention the last two days has been a third party shipper on 5th and Gilman Streets. (1305 5th) The groups apparent intent was/is to impede and/or block the entrance/exit used by the truckers who freight product from Steel Casting. The group was involved in this tactic yesterday, Monday, March 21st and today. This is unlawful activity that is not protected union activity.

    That is one area where BPD is potentially in a lot of trouble.

    Evidently what BPD is relying on for their actions is a part of federal law, namely 29 USC Chapter 7 Subchapter II § 158 (b) (4). The provisions of that section prohibit, among other things, certain forms of “secondary picketing”. For example, if workers at the Acme Pencil factory go on strike against the pencil manufacturer, and Ma-n-Pa Stationary, an independent business, happens to carry Acme pencils among other things, the union isn’t allowed to picket and discourage people from shopping at Ma-n-Pa Stationary.

    The application of the prohibitions of § 158 (b) (4) aren’t simple. The mere fact that the warehouse is separately owned and the trucker’s not Pacific Steel Casting employees does not in and of itself establish that § 158 (b) (4) was violated. The details about how this warehouse space is being used here, and the objective of the picket, matter.

    Here is the thing, though: That hard question of whether or not the picket was a § 158 (b) (4) violation is generally something for the N.R.L.B. or a court to decide. If all we know here is that the strikers were possibly impeding trucks in what may or may not have been a lawful picket, then what is missing is a court order. Without that, without an injunction to enforce, BPD’s autonomous authority to forcibly move the picket line is in doubt, and the possibility that BPD violated federal law and strikers’ constitutional rights is serious.

    This is not to say that it will necessarily be in the union’s best interest to pursue BPD on that grounds. If negotiations have resumed in good faith and those negotiations progress well, perhaps the union will just “forgive and forget”. Nevertheless, I think it reveals what is wrong with this:

    “As we do at all demonstrations, BPD attempted to liaison with leaders and gain voluntary compliance. BPD also gave sufficient warnings before moving the crowd back, as we want to ultimately gain compliance and/or if necessary employ minimal force if possible. Today at a couple points, CMT members were asking the crowd/picketers to move back, stop blocking the roadway and the entrance to the shipping/freight business. The crowd was asked to get back and many warnings were given. Each time a member of a skirmish line moves forward as a group, they are trained to say, “Move!, Step Back. Move.!” Force was used. A woman (who shared that she was pregnant) was at the front of the crowd and was pushed back on the shoulder a couple times by a CMT member. The crowd began to surge and the woman said she was struck in the stomach by an officer. As a precautionary measure due to the pregnancy, she was assessed by City of Berkeley Fire Department (BFD) paramedics and transported to a local hospital for further assessment. She has since been released.”
    “Crowd Management in general is one of the more dangerous and unpredictable activity that police officers are involved in. Crowds can be unpredictable, surge, throw objects and have intention to do harm.”

    That describes a crowd control response of the sort one might expect to see when Cal students take to the streets and start setting dumpsters afire. It suggests that, internally, BPD saw these strikers mainly as that kind of threat and that BPD gave too cursory a level of contemplation to how a union strike differs.

    A truism like this: “Crowds can be unpredictable, surge, throw objects and have intention to do harm.” is amazing to bring up in this context. I’m shocked BPD mentioned that here. There is no indication whatsoever that this apparently well disciplined and well led strike had any inclination to “surge, throw objects, and have intention to do harm”.

    If BPD officers were hyped up in that way, and under-prepared for the real issues of an orderly labor strike, the outcome of excessive use of force while attempting to enforce an unlawful order would not be that surprising.