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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Unions

Between 1950 and 1999, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters [IBT or Teamsters] represented all assembly, production and warehouse workers at Plant #3. There was at least one union representative on each shift to respond to employee concerns.  However, many workers felt that the union did not represent them well and did very little to improve conditions in the plant.  The IBT tended to negotiate with Del Monte officials behind closed doors, making deals without soliciting the opinion of the workers.

The IBT generally ignored the seasonal, largely female, Spanish-speaking workforce that made up the bulk of Del Monte employees during the production season.  The union’s procedural rules excluded seasonal workers from voting in union elections or running for union offices.  Union representatives often did not speak Spanish.  Union literature and ballots were printed only in English, preventing even year-round Spanish-speaking employees from participating in union activities.

In 1969, concerned cannery workers formed the Mexican-American Workers Educational Committee, later known as the Comite de Trabajadores de Canería, or Cannery Workers Committee [CWC].  The regional CWC movement fought against the race and sex discrimination practiced by both the Del Monte Corporation and the IBT.  Activist Lucio Bernabé led the group’s initial efforts to help Spanish-speaking workers become full participants in the IBT local.  The CWC published union materials in Spanish and taught workers how to vote in union elections.  This effort was largely unsuccessful and prompted the opening of the Cannery Workers Service Center in 1978.  The center provided a multitude of services to Spanish-speaking workers, including bilingual shop steward training, a newsletter, and medical service referrals.

As the agricultural industry in the Valley slowly declined, the IBT did little to protect the workers at Plant #3.  The union seemed satisfied with keeping workers employed, even if it meant severe pay cuts and pension consequences.  As mechanization replaced workers on more and more tasks, the union allowed senior workers to be “bumped down” to lower and lower pay scales.