Several hundred people gathered at Old City Hall for a rally before the protest march Friday. Photo: Lance Knobel

On a bright, sunny day, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of Berkeley’s Old City Hall to rally against the immigration laws that prompted the firing of 200 Pacific Steel Casting workers in December last year. Many of the fired workers and their families were joined by members of the teachers’ union, the nurses’ union, clergymen and women and other sympathizers. Following the rally, protesters were to march to the Pacific Steel site in west Berkeley.

Last February, the Department of Homeland Security demanded I-9 forms for all 600 employees of the family-owned steel casting business in West Berkeley. The company and the GMP union worked together to keep workers employed while the DHS examined their residency status. In October, Pacific Steel began to lay off the 200 workers.

“I worked for Pacific Steel for seven years and I was one of the 200 fired,” said Jesus Prado at the rally this morning. “This March for Dignity is because we want to stop the way they’re stepping on us, and treating us like criminals. We came here to work.”

“We’re here today in solidarity with these workers, but also to send a message to the Obama administration that the I-9 raids have to stop,” said Berkeley Councilmember Jesse Arreguín. “We need immigration reform. These raids have a real impact on our community and on families that live in our community.”

Workers gathered for the protest against immigration laws. Photo: Lance Knobel

A statement from Pacific Steel declared that: “These terminations were not only devastating to the workers and their families, but also to the workforce at PSC. The company is proud to have a workforce of extraordinary longevity and skill. Many PSC employees have worked here for decades, earning generous wages and benefits for their hard work and dedication to the company.

“PSC supports a peaceful expression of frustration with the policies and actions of the federal government.  However, we strenuously object to criticism that the company was in any way complicit with the audit, and implore the protestors to direct their attention to the Department of Homeland Security and federal policy makers.”

The company statement was echoed by a statement from the GMP Union Local 164B: “The focus of any such protests needs to be the unfair, uncivilized and inappropriate immigration laws and policies which were brought to bear against Pacific Steel and other employers causing them, under threat of severe penalties and prosecution, to fire long term employees who were undocumented… The focus of any protests must be on the broken and unfair laws used by the government to disrupt and destroy the lives of many of our friends and colleagues.”

Pacific Steel accused of labor violations in lawsuit [12.27.11]
200 undocumented Pacific Steel workers lose their jobs [12.19.11]
Pay raise, no added health costs in Pacific Steel contract [03.28.11]
Workers at Berkeley’s Pacific Steel accept new contract [03.25.11]
Negotiations resume in Pacific Steel strike [03.23.11]
Workers from Berkeley’s Pacific Steel go on strike [03.21.11]

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...