Union pickets Del Monte at Camden port

Posted on Tue, Sep. 21, 2010

By Linda Loyd

Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

Two hundred placard-carrying union longshoremen picketed Tuesday and refused to unload bananas, pineapples and melons from a Del Monte ship docked at Camden's Broadway Terminal to protest Del Monte's decision to shift 75 ships a year and 500,000 tons of cargo to a private terminal, where workers earn less.

Despite a lease through 2020 with South Jersey Port Corp., an offer of more acreage, a cap on electricity bills - and $5 million in wage concessions by the International Longshoremen's Association Local 1291 - Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. is moving its fruit ships Oct. 1 to private Gloucester Terminals L.L.C., owned by the Holt family.

The ILA says it is losing 400,000 labor hours, or the equivalent of 200 to 225 full-time jobs, which represents about one-third of the ILA hours annually on the Delaware River.

Del Monte typically sailed two ships a week to Camden. To keep the business, South Jersey Port offered to reduce Del Monte's annual lease from $1.4 million to $1 million, provide additional acreage at no cost, and cap Del Monte's electricity bill at $700,000 from $1.3 million last year, said spokesman Jay Jones.

Union longshoremen unloaded the Del Monte ship that docked Monday in Camden until 5 p.m., but refused to work into the evening.

The ILA contends it did not put up the pickets Tuesday morning, but that members arrived to find pickets by ILA sympathizers and "community people from South Philadelphia," said Local 1291 president Boise Butler.

The ILA joined the picket line, Butler said, as did ILA members from Charleston, S.C., and Wilmington. There were also pickets outside Gloucester Terminals, a mile south on the Delaware River.

Del Monte moved its ship during the morning to Gloucester City, where workers began unloading.

Several drivers for Tricont Trucking, members of Teamsters Local 107, parked their trucks outside the Gloucester gates and refused to drive past pickets.

Gloucester Terminals spokesman Walter Curran said the drivers reported to work later. "Del Monte told us they did come to work up there, and they have been coming in consistently here."

Del Monte terminal manager Ernie Casper had no comment.

In a statement, Gloucester Terminals said the ILA work stoppage had risked $10 million worth of perishable cargo. It said Del Monte's decision to relocate was "primarily" due to outgrowing the Camden terminal, which has refrigerated cargo capacity for just under 10,000 pallets, whereas Gloucester can accommodate more than 40,000.

The statement said the Gloucester terminal was "fully unionized" represented by Dockworkers Union Local No. 1, Teamsters Local 929, and the International Association of Machinists Local 447. "In fact, there are many more union jobs at Gloucester today than there are at Camden, and they pay wages and benefits that are very competitive with the ILA."

Not so, according to the ILA, who point to advertising on Craigslist offering supervisory jobs at an unnamed Gloucester City facility for salaries ranging from $8.50 to $10 an hour, less than half of ILA wages.

The ad does not mention Gloucester Terminals, and Curran said the posting was for an unrelated off-dock warehouse in Gloucester City. "It has nothing to do with us. It's a totally independent warehouse," he said. "We have never used Craigslist."

Del Monte's decision to end its contract with the ILA is having ramifications elsewhere on the river, where fresh fruit accounts for about 25 percent of ship cargoes.

Stuart Jablon, Dole Fresh Fruit Co.'s vice president of operations in Wilmington, said Dole received calls Tuesday after the pickets went up from customers, asking if Dole could supply extra fruit.

"Customers who buy fruit from Dole and Del Monte are calling, asking us to cover the volumes they would normally buy from Del Monte," Jablon said. "We're basically sold out. So we're not able to accommodate them."

Dole brings more than 50 million bananas and more than one million pineapples a week into Wilmington.


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