Workers at Pacific Steel strike. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The workers at Pacific Steel Casting won’t have to make new co-payments for their health insurance, according to details of a new contract released today by the union.

After a strike last week, the company and members of Local 164B of the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers International Union agreed to a new four-year contact that will give the 461 workers a $3.78 per hour wage increase, according to Ignacio De La Fuente, the vice-president of the union. The company will increase the hourly rate by 75 cents over four years and also pay 44 cents more per hour toward the workers’ pension plans.

Most importantly, the company will continue to pay 100% of employee health benefits, said De La Fuente. The workers had gone out on strike March 21 because the company had been asking them to pay as much as 10% of their salaries toward health care.

For three days, workers picketed Pacific Steel’s three plants on Second Street and a third-party warehouse on Fifth Street. The workers tried to prevent trucks loaded with steel parts from leaving the warehouse by taking air out of tires and physically blocking the way. Berkeley police clashed with strikers on Tuesday, pushing them away from the warehouse.

Union leaders had blamed the strike on Chuck Bridges, a new CFO brought in by the Delsole family after the death of long-time owner Robert Delsole in 2008. The union characterized Bridges as a bean counter whose determination to cut costs undermined the family feeling of the foundry.

“I don’t know why the company took the position it did,” said De La Fuente. “We were very close. It should have been settled without a strike.  This guy came in with the intention of cutting costs. Instead of working with the union to figure out a way to cut costs – which we are open to because we want to save our jobs – he decided to do something that was not in the best interests of the people. We had to take him on. We had no choice.”

De La Fuente said he was proud of the 461 workers who went out on strike, since it was such a risky thing to do in this difficult economic climate.

“I haven’t seen nothing like this in a while in the labor movement,” he said.

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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11 Comments

  1. It is not in and of itself a violation of law — ti depends on whether they were obstructing a bona fide separate business or whether the nominally third party site was, de facto, a nexus of the business being legitimately picketed. The facts alleged in this case strongly suggest (to my eyes) that the transport of goods they were disrupting by picket was part of the nexus of business they could legitimately picket — and that those goods had been situated there at the last minute precisely to try to fraudulently secure protection via secondary picket rules which, under scrutiny, would not apply. There is a lot of complex NLRB adjudication and higher court opinion in this complex area and the union had – at the very least – a plausible case for the legitimacy of that picket. It is possible that it was an unlawful secondary picket but by no means clear. I think based on the closest analogies I could find in case law that they (the union) had a strong case. On that assumption, BPD had absolutely no right whatsoever to unilaterally step in there, assume the court’s role in declaring it an unlawful picket, and then go in taking clubs to strikers. BPD blew it.

  2. The strikers blocked access to a thrid party warehouse– not company property. That is a secondary picket and it is illegal.

  3. The tire slashing of a truck that wanted to pass the Union blockade at the Union protest not done by the Union? Haha! Good one, Bruce! 🙂

  4. Perhaps you surmise that the tire slash was a union action but all we actually have on record is a surmise, not any credible evidence. While on the one hand you can see how a union member might want to do that to advance the union cause, it is also very easy to imagine someone else doing it, in part to discredit the union. It’s also easy to imagine a third party enthusiast for either side doing it. So, you don’t get to use that in defense of the “blocking” charge.

    About marching back and forth in front of the entrance: You know what is missing from that video? A truck being blocked. A driver or warehouse rep complaining against an actual truck that wants to get through being blocked right then, right there.

    Re:

    “Picking apart BPD releases word-by-word probably isn’t worth doing. I get the sense that they don’t have the highest-caliber copywriters and analysts pouring over this stuff for accuracy before it goes out.”

    That release and most releases are from Sgt. Kusmiss. It’s her job. I won’t speak to the quality of her work but I’ve seen enough of it to be confident when noting unusual shifts in tone and emphasis.

  5. I think Bruce’s mention of possible lawsuit threats is hitting the nail on the head.

    I could definitely see the company giving the workers raises in exchange for not having to deal with a protracted public lawsuit.

  6. Which video are you referring to? And I’d call marching back and forth in front of the entrance so that trucks can’t pass and slashing truck tires – which is something that the picketers definitely did – “blocking” business as usual.

    Picking apart BPD releases word-by-word probably isn’t worth doing. I get the sense that they don’t have the highest-caliber copywriters and analysts pouring over this stuff for accuracy before it goes out.

  7. The police described it as “blocking or impeding” or words close to that. “Impeding” (retarding, slowing down) is fully lawful if the picket is lawful — they are there to make their case to truckers (e.g.) to honor the strike. A lawful strike is not merely the withholding of labor (if it were, who would need a picket?) but can also include other elements including the discouragement of business as usual. (A practical example: a lawful picket can impede entry to a job site for scabs, forcing them to cross a picket line and slowing them down.) The fact that the police said “blocking or impeding” rather than “blocking” — plus the video that shows impeding, not blocking — means that the police aren’t relying on “blocking”.

    The police also explicitly cited the picketing of a third-party warehouse as not protected activity (and hence justification for their action — this is the “secondary picket” excuse). The serious labor law problem there is that in the facts alleged in some of the reports, this union action was not directed at the warehouse or the trucker’s business but against the employer who had (per the accounts alleged) established a nexus of operations there in (what would therefore be) a bogus attempt to evade the strike action on a technicality which didn’t correctly apply in this case.

    And, again, labor law aside I think there was an unjustified use of force case there.

    I don’t speculate who threatened whom with what or if any such threats were made. I think the apparent BPD screw-up and its implications were apparent on their surface to all. (E.g.: I sense a very defensive and slightly panicked tone in Kusmiss’ communication about the confrontation.)

  8. Why does it have to be a secondary picket? Having never been a union member I’m not really up to speed on strike law, but I was under the impression that peaceful picketing that blocks access to a business is unlawful.

    You may be right that the Union threatened a lawsuit. Even if the BPD & management were on the right side of the law, the threat of a costly and damaging lawsuit and public trial may have been enough to push things so heavily in the Union’s favor.

  9. This is speculation only – but at least somewhat based in history / experience:

    First, the union is probably not kidding about the CFO being the catalyst here. We don’t know the ownership structure but a reasonable surmise is that the board and executive was divided on whether to make the strong demands in the first place, narrowly decided to make the demands and therefore presented a strong, unified front — and then confronted with such a serious strike the internal balance of opinion shifted. The key thing is that even if a board and executive is uncertain and fractious, when they make a decision they tend to commit to it in a unified way, and in this case they were smart and agile enough to not “double down on a bad bet” as the strike unfolded.

    Second, I’m convinced (more than ever) that BPD really, really screwed up that day and that the City, Pacific Steel Casting, and the warehouse all got “dirty” (made all three parties liable in a variety of ways). Regardless of the legality of the warehouse picket there was a strong case there for unnecessary force. On top of that, the only theory of how the poilce action was legal that has been floated was that this was an unlawful secondary picket. There are two problems with that secondary picket theory: First, the police aren’t supposed to act on it, even if its true, without an order from NLRB or a normal court — not in a close-call case like this. Second, the details reported strongly suggest that it was not an unlawful secondary picket. On purpose or not here we have a good case of two companies colluding in unfair labor practices to bust a strike and the City stepping in and knowingly and unlawfully acting as the thugs. That kind of mistake can change a lot of minds in a labor negotiation.

  10. I don’t doubt the details that you’re reporting here, but it’s kind of unbelievable that the company would cave so completely in such a short amount of time.

    Unless this wage increase is much lower than what the workers had previously wanted, it just doesn’t make sense for the company to demand a whole bunch of concessions and then turn around and give the employees raises instead.