Cannery Life, Del Monte in the Santa Clara Valley

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Mission brand yellow cling peaches label

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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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The drive to unionize the canning and packing industry began in the 1930’s.  Prior to 1935, fruit processing and canning – being seasonal and paid by piece-rate - was considered part of the agricultural process, and was thus excluded from worker protections and collective bargaining.  But as cannery work became more mechanized, it was re-classified as industrial work and therefore subject to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. 

Program for Canner Workers Union Grand Ball, 1937.Unionization among seasonal employees is always difficult, and union drives at Calpak were no different.  California Processors and Growers, the umbrella organization for packing houses in California (including Calpak), signed an agreement with the American Federation of Labor in 1937.   Daily and weekly hour limits were set, and pay rates assigned for various jobs, which were different for men and women.  With support of the AFL, unemployment benefits were extended to seasonal workers in 1939.  Handbill for a special meeting of the Cannery Workers Union, 1939.The AFL represented most cannery workers in the Valley and was not hesitant to threaten strikes.  But most work stoppages were avoided or were very brief, sometimes just a few hours.  Calpak couldn’t afford for plants to be idle and therefore usually gave in to labor demands.  Likewise, workers who were only employed for a few months out of the year could not afford to be on strike and lose valuable wages.

Beginning in the late 1930’s, the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America [UCAPAWA] attacked the AFL as a company union, working for the benefit of corporations rather than workers.  UCAPAWA, an affiliate of the Congress of Industrial Organizations [CIO], worked tirelessly to organize workers in all sectors of the agricultural industry, including canneries.  Their aggressively grassroots approach promoted and supported worker-leaders within each cannery.  The UCAPAWA was also considered by many to be Communist-infiltrated, if not Communist-run.  In the canneries, including Plant #3, the UCAPAWA failed to unseat the AFL locals.

In 1945, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters [IBT] organized the warehouse workers and transport workers who brought produce to the canneries and shipped goods from the canneries to market.  Not willing to share power with any other union, the Teamsters threatened to boycott canneries who continued to recognize AFL representation.  Calpak and the other processors could not afford to have their products sit in the warehouse.  So the corporations gave in to Teamster demands and recognized the Teamsters as the authorized union to represent all cannery workers.  IBT proceeded to ignore the seasonal workforce and its needs, and continue the existing discrimination in hiring and promotion.