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September 23, 2009 > History: Pacific States Steel Corporation

History: Pacific States Steel Corporation

By Myrla Raymundo

Pacific States Steel Corporation operated a very large plant in Union City, CA. The plant, located on Nursery Road between Niles and Decoto, was a landmark and the largest employer in the Decoto area for many years. At the height of its business, Pacific States Steel Corporation joined Western Pacific and Holly Sugar Company in charting Union City's future. Controller and General Manager Marion Newman was in charge of the plant.

From 1938 to 1978, the mill manufactured steel products for a wide range of uses, including filling Government orders during World War II and building large structures such as the Oakland Coliseum and the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) rail line. The mill took old steel cars, melted and formed them into steel products such as reinforcement bars and round pellets for the mining industry. In its boom years, the company sold more than $50 million worth of steel goods annually.

The work was hard and dangerous for the 400-800 blue-collar workers in the mill. In 1950, workers in the most dangerous part of the plant would make $100 a day, a very good wage at that time.

But the plant's profit began to dwindle due to foreign competition in the steel industry and the cost of acquiring new and better technology. The plant continued to fail under restrictive union policies and the recession that gripped the United States in the late 1970s.

In March 1985, seventeen fires had been reported at the plant. That was too many in one area of the city. While battling two large fires, firefighters discovered a dwindling water supply and were forced to lay 1,500 feet of hose to douse the flames. New industrial plants are now required to be within 150 feet of fire hydrants. In addition, Union City Fire Department Chief Voneda ordered all businesses operating at the mill to leave.

Chief Voneda's order came one day after developers unveiled a $100 million plan to replace the old mill with 150 homes and some light-industrial buildings. Cleanup of toxic heavy metals in the ground would require city redevelopment funds. Traces of heavy metals detected in slag heaps and a large cooling pond resulted in the Pacific States Steel mill being placed on the State of California Department of Health Services list of 400 sites in California needing cleanup.

After the plant closed, the mill sat rusting for almost ten years. In the late 1980's, the plant was torn down. Building on the site was delayed due to legal issues and the cost of removing the toxic waste but finally, after a lengthy court battle, the site was cleaned up and Pacific States Steel mill pensioners were paid.

Today, the property that once housed the largest employer in the City of Union City is filled with large, beautiful homes, soon to be part of the urban landscape surrounding the Intermodal Station.

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