By Diana Karakos, Intern, International Labor Rights Forum
Between 400 and 500 Longshore workers in Philadelphia decided to celebrate this past Labor Day by reminding Del Monte that the corporation cannot continue to get away with abusing workers’ rights. The Longshoremen’s (ILA) Local 1291 protested the Del Monte fruit company’s decision to go non-union on October 1 by throwing their own version of the American Revolution’s tea party when they dumped Del Monte’s pineapples into the Delaware River.
Del Monte said that it will move its Philadelphia imports from the ILA pier to one operated by Holt Logistics. The Holt pier does not support labor unions, paying its workers as little as $10.50 per hour with no benefits. However, at the ILA port, the members make anywhere from $17.00 to $24.50 per hour. Holt pier has actively prevented union formation, reported Boise Butler, the Local 1291 President. He explained that the union tried to incorporate the workers at Holt pier into the ILA, but were turned away due to a mixture of raises and intimidation organized by Tom Holt, the Holt pier owner.
Unfortunately, if Del Monte moves its banana and pineapple imports to Holt pier, the ILA will lose 200-300 jobs and up to 400,000 labor hours. However, Holt does not seem to care how devastating this would be to the workers and to their pension and health funds.
ILA Local 1291 reached out to the International Dockworkers Council, the West Coast Longshore Workers, and the International Transport Workers Federation, using their support to help demand that Del Monte continue to use the union workers. This is essential because if Del Monte is allowed to turn to cheaper labor with no benefits now, nothing will stop them from doing it at other Locals. “This is just the first step,” Butler said. “If Del Monte succeeds here, it sends a ripple effect to other banana shippers, on the West coast and around the world.”
According to a comment posted by ILALocal242 on Mischa Gaus’ article “Dumping Pineapples, Not Tea, Philly Longshore Workers Protest Del Monte Fruit’s Low-Balling,” “Tom Holt is out to destroy the ILA. If not stopped he will convince a large containerized steamship company (i.e Hamburg Sud) to go non-ILA and cripple the Master Agreement [the agreement the piers have that determines how much a container is worth]. We in Philadelphia have totally failed to even slow him down and what is worse, every dollar we make for him at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal [the ILA pier] he uses to destroy us. At this point I would be willing to not work for a year if we could somehow starve him out while we starve, but if we don't stop him we will starve alone.”
Thankfully, Longshoremen Local 1291’s peers backed their protest against Del Monte. On Tuesday, September 28, the Philly Longshoremen, with the support of the New York-New Jersey ILA members, brought the East Coast’s biggest port to a halt. The New York-New Jersey workers honored the picket line set up by the Philly ILA in an outstanding show of solidarity, causing the first East Coast port work stoppage since 1977.
On Tuesday and Wednesday (Sept. 28-29) in New York an awe-inspiring 3,600 ILA members refused to work, even disregarding a federal injunction ordering them to continue working. Local 1291 was further supported in Baltimore where 1,000 members closed their port Wednesday afternoon. According to John Blom, an ILA Local 333 member, “People are using their conscience. If we don’t stick together, we’ll fall together.”
To break up the strike, management threatened to send 12 ships waiting to be unloaded to the non-union pier in Philadelphia. However, this did not faze the union members, as they knew the Philly pier did not have the ability to manage the New York cargo.
The ILA members returned to work Wednesday afternoon, September 29, after major shippers agreed to enter into negotiations in Philadelphia regarding Del Monte’s use of non-union labor.
According to Royce Adams, a Local 1291 member, this strike was essential to prove to dock bosses and younger union members that the ILA will not go down without a fight. “We can’t let little Del Monte set precedents,” he said. “If the little guys take you, what are the big guys going to do?”
The ILA issued a document requesting that consumers boycott Del Monte products as the company is undermining the working conditions in the Philadelphia Port. To American consumers they ask: “We, the members of the International Longshoremen’s Association, have serviced Del Monte Fresh Produce, N.A. through a stevedore at the Pier 5, Camden, New Jersey facility for the past 22 years. We have performed our duties professionally, efficiently, and with respect to Del Monte’s economic concerns. We have never heard any complaints about our service or economics from this company. The employees that work on the terminal have been working for the same wage rate that they were making 19 years ago. We have the lowest pension plan in our industry as a result of keeping costs under control.”
However, on July 22, 2010, 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 twenty 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 October 1, 2010 away from the unionized pier, not withstanding 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 workers.
The Longshoremen protested this move because it was a clear violation of the 1991 lease which states that no affiliate, subsidiary, or company comprising Holt family members can bring new container businesses to the river without first trying to bring the work to the ILA pier. Additionally, the lease specifies that two container cranes were supposed to be stationed at the ILA pier, yet there is currently only one. The Longshoremen then also demanded that the second crane be placed at their pier.
However, Holt asked for a 120-day extension from September 24 to review the case. This meant that the ILA workers who lost their jobs when Del Monte moved would be out of work for that much longer. The Longshoremen wanted the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) to hold to the October 24 deadline for a decision regarding Del Monte’s shipments and the crane location. Unfortunately, the PRPA agreed with Holt that the extension was reasonable to ensure that the issue was thoroughly explored before any decisions were made. On October 26, Del Monte was given the go-ahead to sublet space inside the Beckett Street Terminal (Holt’s pier) through Dec. 31, despite the ILA’s protests.
James Paylor, the ILA vice president and the president of Local 1566 explained “I accept that we have lost the Del Monte cargo to Holt and its not coming back. What I don’t accept is for Del Monte, which broke its lease, to continue to control Beckett Street. I want the state of New Jersey to intervene, to invalidate the lease and request proposals for new companies to come in. We need new cargo and I believe we can find it and put out guys back to work.” Despite their defeat against Del Monte, the ILA is still working to inform people about what happened at the Philly port and to ensure that Del Monte does not get away with creating a new class of “working poor.”
What is ironic is that Del Monte’s supplier code of conduct supports union membership. Under its Discrimination section, the code states, “All terms and conditions of employment, including but not limited to, hiring, pay, promotion, and termination must be based on an individual’s ability and willingness to do the job. Suppliers must not discriminate in hiring and employment practices based on race, color, gender, nationality, religion, age, sexual orientation, social or ethnic origin, disability, maternity, marital status, political affiliation, union membership, or any other unlawful basis.”
Also, below their code’s Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining section, it states, “Suppliers must respect the right of workers to choose to lawfully and peacefully associate, organize or bargain collectively. Suppliers shall not threaten, restrict or interfere with workers’ lawful efforts to join associations of their choosing or to bargain collectively.”
Del Monte owes it to the ILA members to allow them their right to unionize and their right to the benefits and pay that come with that right. By moving to the Holt pier, Del Monte would be avoiding its corporate responsibility to the hard working dock laborers. Everyone should be accorded the right to good wages, good hours, and good working conditions. Please continue to support the ILA’s efforts against Del Monte! If Del Monte is allowed to get away with this, other big name companies, such as Dole, are liable to try the same move, creating a situation that will spiral rapidly out of the control of the workers and right into the hands of the big corporations who will abuse their situation of power.
The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) investigated Del Monte’s worker conditions, publishing its findings in a 2008 report entitled “The Sour Taste of Pineapple.” ILRF’s research concluded that, “freedom of association and right to collective bargaining, recognized by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as core labor rights, have been blatantly violated in [Del Monte’s plantations in] Costa Rica…according to ILO reports. 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% 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 Asia.”
In Costa Rica, strong anti-union tactics include: “Massive Lay-offs; Preventing union representatives from moving freely in the work place; only negotiating with Permanent Committees and refusing to recognize unions; Preventing workers from joining unions and undertaking anti-union campaigns; refusing to relocate sick workers, or relocating them to areas with inferior working conditions; and Harassment of female workers.” These tactics have been employed so fiercely that previous to 2008, four unions existed in Costa Rica. Now, however, only three remain as SITRA PINA has faded away to nothing due to excessive anti-union aggression. The three remaining unions are SITRAP, in the northern Limon Province; SITRAPINDECO in the south; and SITAGAH, in Heredia province. However, these groups are struggling to make their presence felt in the workplace due to the continuing anti-union action taking place within the country.
Del Monte’s hostile action against the Philly Longshore workers was not its first anti-union act to take place in the United States. According to the ILRF’s Pineapple Report, “All canned pineapple production in Hawaii has halted in recent years, due to cheaper production costs elsewhere. However, fresh pineapple can still be produced at a profit for sale in Japan, the West Coast US, and for local consumption. There are currently two fresh pineapple operations left in Hawaii, one on Maui and one on Oahu. Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. announced that after 90 years in Hawaii, they will plant their last crop of pineapple on Oahu in 2008 and will cease all operations after that crop is harvested. In January 2007, Del Monte unexpectedly announced they would shutdown production and leave Hawaii at the end of January. The company destroyed the existing crop (estimated value of $10 million) instead of completing the harvest. This decision left about 550 pineapple workers without a job.”
“All pineapple operations of Maui Land and Pineapple are represented by the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 142. According to the union, jobs have been cut significantly in recent years. Five years ago, Maui Land and Pineapple had 1,300 employees while now there are 200, Dole in Oahu had over 2000 employees nine years ago and only 180 today. In the union sites, average wages range from a low of $11.00 per hour to a high of $21.00 per hour while workers have health insurance and pensions. The union workers have few complaints about their working conditions and have not experienced the type of anti-union repression that exists in global pineapple operations elsewhere. These well paid union jobs are becoming few and far between in Hawaii, as industry standards decline due to companies’ comparatively low labor expenditures in pineapple production abroad.”
As you can see, Del Monte has a pattern of actively taking steps to prevent union activity in its workplaces, despite its code of conduct supporting workers rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Don’t let Del Monte continue to get away with this unacceptable behavior! Continue to support the ILA Local 1291’s right to unionize and receive strong wages and benefits! To see what else the ILA is doing regarding the Del Monte campaign, click here. If you want to learn more about what ILRF is doing regarding food and agriculture workers’ rights, click here.