Dockworkers march for Del Monte boycott

Joseph Piette
Workers World

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.” (, 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 gates.

“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, Sept. 29)

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 together.”

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 workers.”

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 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 hour.

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 Asia.”

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!
Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.