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, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...