Lawsuit alleges labor violations by Pacific Steel


The Berkeley business is being slapped with a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by a former employee over working conditions, but not all workers there think there's a problem.

The class-action lawsuit was filed on Friday in Alameda County Superior Court. It is seeking $30 million in damages for alleged violations to California work labor laws.

"It's a violation," said Roberto Rodriguez. "We don't feel fine, comfortable working with these kinds of violations."

Rodriguez, with his attorney by his side, described what he called a systematic and routine disregard for California's work labor laws by his former employer, Pacific Steel Casting Company.

"It's very challenging work to have to go an extra couple of hours to have an opportunity to take 30 minutes outside in some fresh air and eat lunch," said attorney Timothy Rumberger. "I think it is very dangerous and certainly isn't fair to the workers."

In the 17-page lawsuit, Rodriguez alleges that he did not get timely meal or rest breaks, or financial fair compensation. He filed the suit on behalf of about 100 former and current workers.

Pacific Steel denies the claims.

"I have never heard of any claim, even remotely, like that," said Elisabeth Jewel with Pacific Steel. "I can' comment on that until we have a chance to review what these allegations are and, of course, vigorously defend them."

The manufacturing company isn't alone in calling the claims baseless: They have an unlikely ally in the vice president of their employee's labor union.

Ignacio De La Fuente is the international vice president with the union representing the workers at Pacific Steel and says that the collective bargaining agreement they negotiated fully protects the workers of the plant, the mandated breaks and the financial compensation that they're due.

"It's a bunch of baloney," De La Fuente said.

Furthermore, De La Fuente said the lawsuit is completely without merit and dangerous to a state struggling to keep the manufacturing industry as a key employer for skilled labor.

"Every protection is in the collective bargaining agreement," said De La Fuente. "This is a bunch of rubbish. It is an absolute lie."

The suit is asking for an hour of pay for every day without a timely meal break since 2007, adding up to roughly $20,000 in damages per worker.

According to California law, a 30-minute break is required for each five hours of work. Pacific Steel has been in West Berkeley for more than 50 years and is the third-largest foundry of its kind in the country.

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