California Steel Foundry Fires a Third of Its Workers After I-9 Audit
Pacific Steel Casting Company, based in Berkeley, California, has fired about a third of its workers after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted an I-9 work authorization audit in February 2011 and identified about 200 employees allegedly working without legal status.
Elisabeth Jewel, a Pacific Steel spokesperson, said, “It’s terribly disruptive. We have highly trained employees and to lose them is very damaging.” In some cases, the workers had been with the company for decades and have children in local schools who are growing up in the United States.
The Berkeley City Council passed a resolution in June noting that the targeted workers are skilled and “inject hundreds of thousands of dollars into our local economy each month and support other businesses and families. The company and the workers pay taxes that support local schools and services.” The council noted that Pacific Steel’s suppliers could also be harmed by the action, and that the audit and consequent firing of the workers will force them “into an underground economy where illegal wages and conditions are prevalent.” Pacific Steel is the fourth largest foundry in the United States.
In a related action, the American Civil Liberties Union and several unions filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in September 2011 seeking records relating to I-9 audits and “silent raids” such as the one ICE conducted on Pacific Steel. An ICE spokesperson reportedly said that in fiscal year 2011, ICE criminally charged 221 owners, employers, managers, or supervisors; conducted more than 2,496 I-9 audits; and initiated 3,291 worksite enforcement investigations, all up from 2010 numbers.