Contract agreement ends cannery strike

Cannery workers get $1 an hour raise

San Benito Foods employees strike outside the cannery downtown on June 23, 2017 after labor negotiations between the company and union deteriorated.
The Grove
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Cannery workers left the picket line and went back to work at San Benito Foods in Hollister earlier this month, after management and their union agreed to a new labor contract that netted both seasonal and year-round workers a $1 an hour raise.

The strike started on June 23 after contract negotiations, which had been going on since the beginning of the year, collapsed between Teamsters Local 890 and the tomato cannery, owned by Neil Jones Food Company. The strike ended eight days later on July 1.

“We were able to get a $1 raise effective July 1,” said union representative Jose Perez. A press release from the union states the $1 raise applies to all workers. Wages will further increase by 2.25 percent in 2018 and another 2.25 percent in 2019. This means the lowest paid worker earning $11.96 will bring in $12.96 starting this month.

San Benito Foods employs 100 full-time workers year-round and 450 seasonal workers during the busy processing season from July through September. The union has about 5,550 members in the region, making the cannery employees roughly less than 10 percent of its membership.

The contract applies to both seasonal and full-time workers, a preference the union sought and won during negotiations as the company tends to want to divide the two classes of employees into separate labor agreements, explained Perez.

Cannery Plant Manager Sam Humphrey said the company is focused on the upcoming season.

“We’re glad the strike is behind us,” Humphrey said Tuesday. “We’re looking forward to a successful season this year.”

Humphrey addressed rumors of workers being fired for striking.

“There were no terminations,” Humphrey said. “The union has the right to go on strike and we respect that, of course.”

Perez said the union does their best to avoid going on strike, but was inspired to fight for better wages by other strikes in Salinas.

A June walkout at Taylor Farms in Salinas yielded a raise for the Local 890 workers there.

Following that, three unions in Salinas went on strike and ended up with a $2.50 raise, Perez said.

“That kind of inspired our members considering they weren’t getting much of a raise. This company has a history of keeping wages low and previously they had only offered a two percent raise.”

There was concern from picketers that they were losing holidays. Perez said employees were given floater holidays. The holidays in question are Good Friday and Veteran’s Day.

“They’re able to keep Good Friday and Veterans Day this year,” Perez said. “Next year they can get two floaters, so they can take off whenever they want. The third year, one floater is taken away, but more money is added to their 401k.”

In regards to the holidays, Humphrey said nothing is being taken away.

“The company has three plants and to be consistent with the holidays is why we’re changing it,” Humphrey said. “Employees are receiving floaters in lieu of those holidays. In the canning business, a lot of companies around the country are open those days. We felt it was important company-wide that we observe that, but that’s why we offered floaters. If Good Friday was important to them, it is still available.”

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