In March, workers briefly went out on strike against Pacific Steel

This is not going to be a Merry Christmas for many of the workers at Pacific Steel.

After a recent crackdown by the Department of Homeland Security, 200 workers who could not provide a valid social security number are being laid off.

Those let go from the third largest foundry in the United States include many highly skilled workers who have been at the company for decades.

“It’s very sad,” said spokeswoman Elisabeth Jewel from the firm Aroner, Jewel & Ellis Partners. “The employees who are being terminated now have the most seniority. Many have been there 20 to 30 years. They have kids in the public school. They pay taxes. They are fully invested in American life. It’s been a really wrenching situation – obviously for the workers – but also for the company.”

In February, Pacific Steel, which was founded in Berkeley in 1934 by the Genger family and is still family-owned, got a request by ICE, the US Immigration and Customs Authority, an agency within Homeland Security, to examine I-9 documents, said Jewel. The department came back and reported that the social security numbers of 200 of the company’s 600 workers didn’t match up.

The employees were given a chance to provide new documentation to prove they were legally working in the US. Only a few were able to do that, said Jewel.

Pacific Steel has been doing rolling layoffs, keeping those with the most seniority working the longest. The last workers will be let go in January, she said.

The crackdown comes at an interesting time for Pacific Steel. Demand for its steel parts dropped considerably when the economy sank in 2008, but has been picking up rapidly in recent months, said Jewel. The factory only had about 470 workers in March, but has gone on a hiring spree since then, increasing its work for to 600, said Jewel. It is running three shifts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The average employee earns about $18 an hour.

The company is replacing those who have been laid off, said Jewel. The company now uses a website called E-Verify, which provides instant electronic verification of an employee’s status.

“It’s not a wonderful situation for anybody,” City Council member Linda Maio said of the layoffs. “It’s terrible, really.”

Avatar photo

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...