A former worker for Pacific Steel filed a $31 million lawsuit against the foundry on Friday, accusing management of breaking labor laws by not giving workers a break after six hours of work.

Timothy P. Rumberger, a Berkeley attorney, filed the class action lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of Roberto Rodriguez and 1,000 other workers. Rodriguez had worked at Pacific Steel for 45 years.

At a news conference in front of the foundry on Friday, Rumberger said California labor law requires companies to give employees a 30-minute break after working for six hours. Pacific Steel had negotiated a break at 11:30 am for workers who arrived at 5 am — which is longer than the law permits, said Rumberger.

When Rodriguez would complain, his managers would tell him he could always leave, he said on Friday.

Timothy Rumberger (l) and Roberto Rodriguez (r) Photo: LA Wood

“My clients perform physically challenging skilled labor in dangerous, toxic environments,” said Rumberger. “It is unconscionable that these men and women have been forced to endure decades of California labor law violations without the protections and just compensation they are entitled to receive.”

But Ignacio De La Fuente, the international vice president for Local 164B of the Glass, Molders, and Pottery Union, said he did not think there was merit to the charges. The union contract with Pacific Steel permits workers to file grievances when they have trouble with working conditions, and neither Rodriguez nor any other workers ever approached the union with a complaint about the timing of their work breaks, he said.

“People take breaks at different times,” said De La Fuente. “It’s a continuous operation.”

De La Fuente said he has negotiated contracts with a number of foundries, and the one with Pacific Steel is similar to others’ contracts.

Rumberger said that Pacific Steel’s recent layoffs of 200 workers motivated him to file the lawsuit. The company fired the workers after the Department of Homeland Security did an audit of workers’ papers and found many had used invalid social security numbers.

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...