Last week, Pacific Steel Casting in Berkeley, California finally signed a new contract with the worker’s union that will provide workers with the health benefits they need!  Not only that, workers will also receive a pay raise in their hourly wage and an increase in their pension. 

While this is an important victory for workers, it highlights how industrial polluters continually put community members at a lower priority when it comes to making investments in cleaner air and healthier communities. But that can change.

The background on the worker issue is simple. The labor union at PSC, Local 164B of the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers International Union, went on strike last week protesting a burdensome health care benefit cut which could cost workers up to $300 a month.

Cutting employer paid health benefits is especially irresponsible when the heavy metals the workers are being exposed to every day can cause serious health effects from inhalation.

However, the deal was not perfect. Workers compensation most likely will not cover any chronic health problems associated with prolonged exposure not associated with an accident.  How are these workers expected to pay for any necessary treatment resulting from long term exposure?

 

The other important part of this contract has to do with keeping experienced workers at the facility. An experienced workforce is far less likely to make mistakes.  An experienced workforce is far safer for the employees, for the community and for the business as a whole.  The surrounding community deserves an experienced workforce and an experienced workforce deserves an honest paycheck.  In turn, the careful & trained workers will save the business money with fewer accidents and the community will be safer because of it.

Well, cheers to PSC for taking responsibility for their workers, but PSC still needs to take responsibility for the toxic chemicals that continue to pour over their fenceline and into the surrounding neighborhood.

The West Berkeley Community has been plagued by noxious odors for years as a result the industrial processes of PSC.  These odors are more than just a nuisance.  They’re a signal of a chemical and heavy metal presence in the air.

Prolonged and consistent exposure can be a health risk to surrounding neighborhoods.  The community has tried to work with PSC, attempted to open lines of communication, and find agreeable solutions. But they continue to struggle to win cleaner air.

PSC complained that they were losing 2 million dollars a day during the strike.  2 million dollars a day?!  That sounds like the company is doing well enough not only to cover health insurance costs for their workers but also make sound investments to clean up their facility and reduce the toxic pollution in the surrounding neighborhoods.

There are rational solutions here- open communication with neighbors and workers, factory upgrades, newer chemical abatement technology for their smokestacks, buffer zones between the community and the industry…..

This strike could have been a rare opportunity for the community and workers to stand together on a common platform against toxic pollution, but that window of opportunity was short. Even with the union contract agreed upon, it is still in the best interest of unions and fenceline neighbors to start talking about safety for the workers and the community, about investments in the facility that protect everyone, and about a future that preserves industry while ensuring healthy neighborhoods.

United we stand, divided toxic pollution wins.

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