Cannery Life, Del Monte in the Santa Clara Valley

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Mission brand yellow cling peaches label

View a database that includes artifacts, photographs, and documents in the History San José collection which relate to Del Monte Plant #3 in San José, California.

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In Their Own Words

Beatrice and Friends

Learn about Del Monte Plant #3 from the people who worked there.  See videos of former Del Monte employees sharing their memories.

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San Jose Canning Plant No. 3, 1949During the height of the canning seasons, Plant #3 operated around the clock to process all of the produce as quickly as possible.  Company officers and managers keenly felt the pressure to keep the plant running at all costs. 

“I waited in line every single day for a whole month. To, you know, to get a job. Because at that time, there were a lot of people who wanted to work in the canneries… I didn’t get a job until August when they started the cocktail.” Plant #3 worker Mary Lou Reyes.

Getting hired at Plant #3 required a combination of timing, connections and good luck.  Seasonal workers were hired separately for the different packing seasons. A worker hired for the spinach season might or might not be re-hired to work peaches or fruit cocktail.  But seasonal workers with a proven employment record were almost always hired back season after season.  When the cannery needed more workers, managers selected from the queue of potential employees waiting outside the cannery.  They were more inclined to hire people who were referred by a friend or family member.  Prospective employees quickly learned to lie about their age, marital status, or family responsibilities if necessary to be chosen.  Many full-time workers were also referred to Calpak by family members or friends who worked there. 

San Jose Canning Plant No. 3, 1949The Progressive reform movement of the 1910’s drew attention to abusive labor practices in all industries.  In 1916 the California Industrial Welfare Commission regulated piece-rates and some working conditions, including lighting and restrooms.  The maximum number of work hours was set at ten hours a day and sixty per week.  However, compliance was voluntary and processors were unlikely to comply with hour regulations during the packing season.  Starting in 1937, union agreements regulated hours, wages and seniority.  With working hours set at 9 hour shifts, the cannery typically operated three shifts during the harvest, so that the factory ran around the clock.  During each shift, workers received two short breaks and a lunch break.  Workers were also allowed restroom breaks as needed.  During non-peak months, the plant operated only one day shift.