Pacific Steel, Workers Reach Agreement

Photo: Pacific Steel Casting Company and union workers agreed to a new employment contract on Thursday, ending a strike that began March 20.
Jeff Totten/Photo
Pacific Steel Casting Company and union workers agreed to a new employment contract on Thursday, ending a strike that began March 20.

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A strike that began March 20 at midnight ended Thursday as Pacific Steel Casting Company and union workers reached an agreement on a new employment contract.

Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics & Allied Workers International Union Local 164B workers began striking following the proposal of a contract that would make employees pay 20 percent of their health care costs, according to Jose Carreno, a union member and foreman at the company. The union's negotiating committee "overwhelmingly" rejected the proposal and voted to strike, he said.

"Our main goal is to keep our medical benefits where they are," Carreno said Wednesday afternoon. "We don't make that kind of money to pay that kind of premium."

On Wednesday night, the two parties reached a settlement, according to Ignacio De La Fuente, vice president of the union and an Oakland City Council member. De La Fuente, who was the chief negotiator in the settlement, said the contract - which will expire March 2015 - gives workers a $3.78 increase in hourly salary and requires that the company continue to pay 100 percent of employee health benefits.

Pacific Steel agreed to pay $940 in monthly health benefits following the settlement, a $140 increase from before the strike, according to De La Fuente. The amount paid by the company to workers for health benefits will increase yearly to compensate for continually increasing health care costs.

"I feel very happy and actually impressed by these people," De La Fuente said. "Four hundred and fifty-one people went out on strike, 100 percent of the people went out and 100 percent of the people went back in ... it's an absolute victory."

Carreno, who has worked at the company for 11 years, said workers picketed in six-hour shifts, 24 hours a day. On Wednesday, dozens of workers were scattered around the intersection of Gilman and 5th streets, quietly marching around with signs calling the cuts "unfair."

"We're exercising our right to strike," Carreno said Wednesday in an interview with The Daily Californian. "They're trying to shortchange us."

According to Carreno, Pacific Steel hired a third party company, Strom Engineering - which specializes in providing temporary workforce during labor disputes, according to the company's website - to deal with the labor shortage during the strike. The union workers had been blocking the gates to a warehouse at 5th and Gilman to prevent Strom Engineering from transporting goods out of the warehouse, he said.

Officers from the Berkeley Police Department monitored the crowd of workers last Monday and Tuesday, according to a statement from the department, although police were not on the scene Wednesday.

The statement also noted that force was used Tuesday when between 100 and 125 workers tried to block truckers from leaving the warehouse. A pregnant woman in the front of the crowd was struck by police who were trying to contain the crowd.

"That was the straw that broke the camel's back," Carreno said.

Councilmember Linda Maio, whose district includes the steel plant, said the strike came as a surprise, adding that it was unfortunate that "a major confrontation" was necessary to reach an agreement.

"The union had been working very closely with management ... no one expected it," Maio said. "We hope that they can come to the table next time and not have to put everyone through all this."


Contact Damian Ortellado at [email protected]

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