Berkeley, Calif.—On Feb. 17 over 500 people joined a “March for Dignity,” endorsed by Occupy Oakland, in support of the over 200 mostly Latino workers fired the previous month, despite Berkeley being a “sanctuary” city (meaning the city pledged to not cooperate with discrimination based on legal status). An I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification Form, for checking on resident status) audit of Pacific Steel Casting Company, concluded in January, found 214 incongruences.
My husband and I were among those fired. Although the law was supposed to punish employers hiring undocumented workers, we are the ones punished by it.
At the beginning it looked as though our union, headed by Oakland’s councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente, was going to help us. The company posted an E-Verify poster on the human resources office last January and started hiring new “legal people.” The union assured us that nothing would happen to us because we were already inside. Eventually the union provided us the name of a law firm to help those of us who could get legal documents like a U visa.
But that was not enough. The union promised to provide a representative to be with us during the audit interviews. I called the union many times, but one never came. They didn’t even answer the phone. Most of us were fired, and I am not aware of anything the union may be doing after that. For example, they are not providing us with a list of jobs we could apply for. They only delayed any action on our part. The delay let the company hire our replacements, whom we trained before being fired.
We started to organize at first just to get our pension money back. We know we will not get another job in this industry; we will not continue to be represented by this union, so we wanted back the money we contributed for our pensions. Frankly, we need it: we don’t have a job, we don’t even have a hope of getting another job like it.
Once we started organizing, others joined us with their ideas of what we could do. We know that we will not continue to be a minority. In the future we will be a majority. We have to do things for all of us, starting right now.
We are looking for wider perspectives. This march is a march for dignity because we feel we don’t have anything else. We don’t have access to education, we don’t have a way to survive without a job. We don’t have anything here. But this is our country now. We have our families here, we have friends, we are a community. This is our place, our home now. So dignity is what we are fighting for.