Supporters of the 200 undocumented laborers recently fired from Pacific Steel Casting Company will participate in a protest for worker rights Friday with a “March for Dignity” from Old City Hall to Pacific Steel’s facility in West Berkeley.
The march is in response to an I-9 audit, mandated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, that resulted in the firing of 200 undocumented workers starting in December. The audit demanded that the company check the employment eligibility of its workers, eventually leading to the dismissal and replacement of those who could not provide social security numbers.
According to Pablo Paredes, one of the event coordinators, the march has multiple goals. In addition to standing against the Obama administration’s practice of conducting citizenship audits, march participants hope to create a sense of dignity in workers who feel that they were treated inhumanely.
“Immigration audits, a.k.a silent raids, destroy the livelihoods of migrant families and make workers vulnerable to the kinds of abuses these workers suffered,” Paredes said in an email.
Elisabeth Jewel, spokesperson for Pacific Steel, said the company is sympathetic to the march’s “purpose in bringing awareness to federal government actions concerning I-9 audits.”
“We do feel, however, that anger targeting the company is entirely misplaced,” she said.
Pacific Steel is also in the midst of a lawsuit filed by a former employee who is seeking financial restitution for the company’s alleged failure to provide mealtimes, rest periods and timely payment to dismissed workers.
Lori Haley, spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said businesses that employ illegal aliens are able to exploit workers and pay them low wages, gaining a comparative advantage over law-abiding companies.
“These inspections are one of the most powerful tools the federal government has to ensure that businesses are complying with U.S. employment laws,” she said.
Berkeley city officials have also found fault with ICE’s intervention, citing Berkeley’s status as a sanctuary city.
“The way the ICE has busted in here and disrupted families and homes is unacceptable,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Darryl Moore. “Berkeley is a sanctuary city … We should live up to those values.”
Paredes said in the email that he expects at least 300 people — both dismissed former employees and their supporters — to participate in the march, which will begin making its way from Old City Hall at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way to Pacific Steel at around 10 a.m., according to the Facebook page.
“Pacific Steel has plenty of lawyers who can outspend the workers in court, but the workers can marshal public support for their noble and just cause,” Paredes said in the email.