Dockworkers march for Del Monte boycott
Published Dec 11, 2010 10:45 AM
Led by the 3-year-old daughter of a laid-off longshore worker whose sign read
“Del Monte ruined my Christmas,” more than 400 dockworkers and
community and labor allies marched in the busy noontime streets around City
Hall here on Nov. 22. They were protesting the layoffs of more than 200 members
of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1291 due to the
decision by Fresh Del Monte Products to dock its incoming ships at a
below-union-wage pier in Gloucester City, N.J.
The workers also entered and took over a Wawa supermarket, dramatizing the
union’s call for a boycott of Del Monte, a major supplier of fresh fruit
to supermarket chains around the U.S. Wawa is a major seller of Del Monte fruit
in the Delaware Valley area. Fresh Del Monte Produce is not affiliated with Del
Monte Foods Co., which sells packaged food products.
Support actions on the National Day of Action also took place as far away as
Galveston, Texas, and Coral Gables, Fla. Denver City Councilmember Paul Lopez
met a union delegation outside city hall in 28-degree weather and stated:
“It’s a cold day and a cold night, but this is an action of
solidarity. We are here because what Del Monte is doing is undermining the
fundamental pillars of the work force in America. They are taking us back to
the 1920s.” (ilwu46.com, Dec. 4)
At the New York and New Jersey ports, 3,600 workers refused to allow the
unloading of at least two dozen ships in late September, the first strike there
since 1977. Trucks filled with goods to be exported were left standing at the
“We’re worried that it’ll be like a cancer,” said
Anthony Velardo, a union member at Port Newark who operates machinery that
takes the containers off the ships and loads them into waiting trucks.
“It’ll start small and then grow, and what happened in Philly can
happen here and all our jobs could go somewhere else.” (Associated Press,
Local 1291 was further supported in Baltimore, where 1,000 members closed their
port Nov. 29. According to John Blom, an ILA Local 333 member, “People
are using their conscience. If we don’t stick together, we’ll fall
Philadelphia ILA members tossed Del Monte pineapples into the Delaware River
during the Labor Day Parade in September, announcing the boycott campaign
against Del Monte, one of the world’s largest food brands.
Del Monte anti-union worldwide
In a document calling for the boycott, the ILA writes: “On July 22, Del
Monte issued an outrageous demand that $5 million in labor cost reductions and
$25 million in infrastructure improvements be met by the State of New Jersey in
just four days! The ILA agreed to meet these shocking demands, conceding to
wage cuts and benefit reductions regardless of the fact that they had not
received a wage increase for almost 20 years, hoping that if they did, Del
Monte’s imports would continue to arrive at the ILA’s pier.
“Despite the ILA’s willingness to work with Del Monte, the company
still elected to move its business on Oct. 1 away from the unionized pier,
notwithstanding the fact that Del Monte’s net profit for 2009 was $144
million. Needless to say, the economy is not hurting this giant corporation and
there is no financial need for the company to resort to lower wages for its
Dionysios Christou, a spokesperson for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh
Produce, argued on Sept. 28 that the “Gloucester Terminals LLC is fully
unionized.” (ABC News, Sept. 29) ILA Local 1291 Business Manager Boise
Butler replied: “Dock Workers Local 1 is a sham union. They pay their
unqualified workers slave wages and little or no benefits. ... The Gloucester
Terminal is operated by the Holts, who provide office space to Local 1.”
(Philadelphia Public Record, Sept. 29)
Del Monte advertised for supervisory jobs at its facility in Gloucester, N.J.,
on Craigslist.org in September, offering salaries ranging from $8.50 to $10 per
hour. At the ILA port, union members make anywhere from $17 to $24.50 per
In a 2008 report entitled “The Sour Taste of Pineapple,” the
International Labor Rights Forum investigated conditions for Del Monte’s
workers. Its findings concluded that “freedom of association and right to
collective bargaining have been blatantly violated in [Del Monte’s
plantations in] Costa Rica. ... Union leaders have been systematically fired
and laid off to obliterate any union presence in pineapple production.
“This is particularly true in Costa Rica, where companies install
‘Permanent Committees,’ or company-selected worker representatives
to replace union leaders. ... Less than 2 percent of workers in Costa Rica are
currently unionized and as a result major anti-union actions have been carried
out by companies while governments remain complicit.”
The report continues: “The abuses can also be attributed to more
systematic factors surrounding the international agricultural supply chains.
Multinational companies that buy and distribute pineapples are pressured into
reducing costs to be able to compete for a place on the supermarket shelf.
“Since input costs such as fertilizers and gas are often fixed or rising,
supplier companies such as Dole and Del Monte will often seek to maximize
profits by minimizing their labor costs. Labor costs only account for a small
percentage of the total selling price of the pineapples. Nevertheless, these
companies consistently take advantage of high unemployment, migrant workers and
weak labor standards in impoverished regions like Central America and Southeast
Del Monte’s aggressive action at Philadelphia’s port is a
continuation of its anti-labor policies worldwide, brought home to the U.S.
during the most serious recession since the 1930s.
The fightback answer, of course, is solidarity. Boycott Del Monte!
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