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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Labor: Safety

Safety was a prime issue in the heavily mechanized maze of Del Monte Plant #3.  As larger and ever more powerful machines were installed, workers were exposed to more and more industrial hazards.  Workers were expected to learn on the job, and quickly, with only minimal instruction in workplace safety. Mechanization required that workers keep up with the machine, even when they were fatigued or distracted.  With the machines constantly running, workers who slowed down or whose attention wandered could be seriously injured.  As Del Monte employee Guadalupe Gonzalez said, “All of the machine work is very dangerous.  You have to be very alert.”

“When I would go to bed I would hear the clanging and clanging of the cans until I fell asleep, because it was so loud there.”  Plant #3 Worker Angela Jones

Many women on the line reported severe damage to their hands; not so much from traumatic injuries but from the small everyday nicks and cuts associated with cutting fruit by hand.  Women canning spinach suffered burnt hands and rotting fingernails because spinach was canned while it was still hot from cooking.  One major hazard was catching fingers and hands in the processing machine.  This happened to young Tony Paradiso, just a few months after he began working at Del Monte at the age of 17, in 1949.

The floors of Plant #3 were almost always wet during canning season, creating a very hazardous environment.  Fruit was washed and sprayed, steam was the main cooking method, and machines were hosed down after each shift.  Plant #3 was eventually equipped with grating and a drainage system to draw water, fruit juice and other liquids off the manufacturing floor.  Noise was also a safety problem.  In a building the size of four football fields, with machines running and cans rattling along conveyors, the noise was intense.  And the workplace got louder every time a new machine was added. 

Safety Record Sign, c. 1955Del Monte Plant #3 had a nurse available during all shifts.  The nurse could provide first aid and advise when a worker should be sent to a doctor or hospital.  The nurse might also tell a worker go home to recuperate.  Some seasonal workers ignored advice to stay home since it deprived them of essential income.

“Sometimes we used to get cut even if we had gloves. Just by going like that you know a little cut… Sometimes our apron would get caught in the machine too. Because it got caught on mine.”  Plant #3 Worker Elida Gutierrez