publisher colophon

The canning-production industry differs from other manufacturing industries in that the raw material, fresh produce, is perishable and seasonal. At harvest time, canners must process tons of produce before the crop is lost. Furthermore, the volume of produce varies from year to year, which creates variation in the volume of canned goods that is packed. Because of this agriculturally based production process, canners have tried to minimize their risks and gain some control over production through various means. Nonetheless, canning is like other manufacturing in that each period in the industry’s history contains a particular constellation of ownership, market power, technology, employment levels, occupational structure, and resistance by workers (Cardellino 1984).

There are three major phases of development in the canning industry, which are examined here.1 I argue that as the canning industry industrialized, there developed a bifurcated internal labor market that included occupational segregation by sex and race. The period 1870–1937 included the decline of craft production, the rise of the factory system and general expansion of production, and the various struggles for union representation. At this time, canning developed a “primary” and “secondary” labor force consisting of men and women workers. Between 1937 and 1968 there was first an intense interunion jurisdictional battle, which culminated in unionization by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in 1946. During this phase bureaucratic union-management relations developed, as well as increased mechanization and mass production. After unionization occurred, Teamster policy and informal practices contributed to the lack of job mobility by women and minorities. From 1968 to 1978 the canning industry matured in terms of production processes, and there was increased labor agitation by dissident Teamsters regarding the lack of job mobility. Along with market pressures and the high wage bill, these forces set the stage for the restructuring and eventual decline of the canning industry in the Santa Clara Valley. This is discussed in Chapter 6. In each of these periods, the contours of occupational segregation changed.

The Canning Industry

Canning and preserving have been major economic activities in California since the late 1850s, when production began in San Francisco. The industry initially consisted of small, individually owned firms. After 1870 the canning industry rapidly expanded production, and new firms opened up. The industry spread throughout the state, with factories being set up in the Santa Clara and San Joaquin valleys, Los Angeles, and Sacramento (Cardellino 1984). James Dawson opened the first cannery in the Santa Clara Valley in 1871 in a small shed. Fruits and vegetables were obtained through door-to-door sales from neighbors in what was considered the countryside as compared to San Francisco. The Santa Clara Valley was an ideal location because it was a center of agricultural production, and there were good transportation facilities by sea and rail. But the industry had occasional bouts of overproduction, so the California Canned Goods Association was formed in 1885 to regulate trade practices. In 1899 the industry’s first concentration of ownership occurred. The California Fruit Canners Association joined together eleven companies holding 60 percent of the industry’s output. Production continued to expand, and output doubled in each decade (except the 1930s) between 1890 and 1960 (Philips 1980:128–131).

The canning-production process was originally done by hand. From the first, the required skills were divided along gender lines. Boxes of produce were delivered by horse-drawn wagons, unloaded by men and boys, and delivered to tables where the produce was initially processed. Preparing the produce for canning (sorting, peeling, cutting, and coring or pitting) required a careful touch and skills usually considered “Women’s work.” These workers also wore “Women’s” clothes—aprons and hair nets.2 Skilled operations included can making by tinsmiths, can capping and sealing, and bulk produce cooking, a very complex and delicate operation. (The proper recipes for cooking produce were closely guarded secrets that even canners did not know.) The craft operations, including bulk cooking, were held by men.

Occupational segregation by race has also been part of the canning industry since its inception. In the 1850s women were scarce in postgold-rush California, and there was a general labor shortage. Thus, for preparing the produce, the canners also hired Chinese men, who had been driven out of gold mining and had no choice but to accept the low wages offered by the canners for “Women’s work. ” In addition, the canners trained some Chinese men for skilled jobs. As a result, Chinese males represented 60 percent of the San Francisco cannery labor force in 1870. After the 1870s there was intense racial animosity toward the Chinese, and attempts were made by working-class white men to exclude Chinese males from the labor force. Whether or not the California canners subscribed to the racist propaganda of the anti-Chinese agitators, they placed their needs for labor first and resisted pressure to fire the Chinese workers. “Having started with the Chinese and having proven their usefulness as skilled workers as well as floor labor, it was doubly expensive to replace them” (Brown and Philips 1983c:9). With the threat of hiring even more Chinese workers, Chinese employment could also be used as a check on the demands of white male workers for higher wages.

In the 1870s canneries began hiring more women, whose numbers had increased as a portion of California’s population. Women were recruited through advertisements that suggested they spend their summer months earning some extra money in tents with other “girls. ” Chinese men remained in the skilled jobs, but they were usually secluded and worked in sections of the canneries away from the women. The number of women in canning grew rapidly, in the end largely displacing unskilled Chinese workers. In 1900 women represented 70 percent of the canning labor force (Brown and Philips 1983b:39), and Chinese men declined to only 4 percent of cannery workers by 1908 (Brown and Philips 1983c:15).3

Except for the few skilled operations, most cannery jobs (for both women and men) were seasonal and “casual”—that is, the work was usually paid by the piece-rate system, with a minimum wage and an additional rate for each box of produce. Women generally earned less than men, primarily because “a higher proportion of women were employed in job categories in which the piece-rate system was employed than were men” (U.S. Immigration Commission, 1911, cited in Brown 1981:141). Workers were often newly arrived immigrants who knew little English and had few job skills. They also frequently moved from field-harvesting to food-processing jobs, creating peak-season labor shortages. In this regard, the work processes of cannery and farm labor before unionization were similar, and canning was viewed as a part of agricultural production. Beginning in 1910, the percentage of women in California canneries began a steady decline, since mechanization gradually eliminated the need for large numbers of hand processers.

Mechanization

Cannery production was mechanized as early as the 1880s and was unevenly introduced into different canneries. Mechanization brought more control to canners over the uncertainties of agriculturally based production, since fluctuating prices of raw produce created unstable profit margins.4 Mechanization of the skilled jobs also eliminated the power of craftsmen to withhold their labor at critical times and resulted in lowered wages for workers (Brown and Philips 1983a). The introduction of the pressure cooker and capping machine occurred despite the violent resistance by craftsmen.5 Eventually, all canners succeeded in mechanizing these skilled operations, although mechanization of “Women’s work” was hampered by the technical difficulty of replicating small-scale hand movements by machine and the low piece-rates paid to women.

Between 1900 and 1930 the canning industry underwent another process of capital concentration and centralization (Philips 1980). Before and during World War I there was a growth in demand for canned products, primarily by the U.S. government. Furthermore, many imports such as tomato paste from Italy were cut off during the war, causing new markets to start up.6 In 1916 California Packing Corporation (which advertised under the Del Monte label) bought out the large canner association. “Cal Pak” (as it was called) then controlled 50 percent of the canned goods market. By 1920 two firms, Cal Pak and Libby, McNeill and Libby, produced most of the state’s output. After the war government orders dropped abruptly, and the industry was forced to develop new markets. At this time the Santa Clara Valley produced 90 percent of the California pack of fruits and vegetables. The search for new markets was successful, and until World War II, the canneries continued their steady expansion; in fact, canning was the most important manufacturing industry in Santa Clara County (Claus 1966; Philips 1980).

To take advantage of economies of scale, canners built large factories that processed several products and established systems of continuous-line production. The new factories were built in urban areas for ready access to labor as needed. These moves greatly increased potential production capacity, but the mechanization of certain skilled jobs also led to production bottlenecks, and other tasks had to be speeded up.

Between 1900 and 1917 the tasks of labeling and filling the cans were mechanized. Conveyor belts were introduced to move the product from the unloading area through processing stages to boxcars for shipment (Brown 1981:42; Philips 1980:216). The “iron slaves” (as the filling and labeling machines were called) greatly increased productivity and cut unit labor costs. Mechanization of these labor-intensive operations allowed canners to have further control over the labor process since machines displaced unskilled workers on the shop floor. For the female scalding and labeling tasks, “the gender and wage of the workers did not change after mechanization,” whereas in packing and wiping jobs, “men took the jobs formerly held by women,” presumably because the wages increased (Brown and Philips 1983b: 19). In these two mechanized jobs, increases in labor productivity compensated for the higher male wages (Brown 1981:43).

The first two waves of mechanization were introduced to “deskill” (Braverman 1974) the craft labor of men and control the work process of unskilled workers. Although some of womens jobs were converted to men’s jobs, most of the Women’s work remained as hand labor or of a “casual” character (Brown and Philips 1983b:8). Some of the labor-intensive tasks that women typically performed, such as sorting or filling, remained as hand labor as late as 1978 (see Chapter 4). In 1910, 95 percent of the women in California canneries performed unskilled tasks, 4 percent were employed in semiskilled operations, and 1 percent were employed in skilled and supervisorial positions (Brown 1981:123).

With mechanization, men’s work increasingly developed a job hierarchy, and through apprenticeships or company policies men were promoted up the job ladder. Women’s work, however, had virtually no job ladder. The one exception was promotions to forewoman, but there were few of these positions. Another result of mechanization was that men, unlike women, were usually paid hourly wages. The majority of Women’s tasks, even those that were mechanized, continued to be paid by the piece-rate system. Thus although mechanization eliminated the informal nature of male cannery work, the cannery labor force was bifurcated into the structured work of men, with hourly wages and promotion prospects, and the casual work of women, with piece-rates and few possibilities for promotions (Brown and Philips 1983b: 12–15). Yet the wages of women relative to men had increased significantly. In 1910 women earned about 86 percent of men’s wages (Brown 1981:123). Mechanization also contributed to capital concentration, for small firms found it increasingly difficult to purchase the machinery necessary to remain competitive.

Between 1900 and the restrictive immigration legislation of 1924, there was an influx of many European immigrants to northern California, and the ethnic composition of the cannery labor force changed. To supplement open contracting for jobs, in which workers waited to be hired, labor-recruitment practices also came to include the use of ethnic brokers and networks of friends, relatives, and ethnic compatriots. Some of the Italian immigrants had enough capital to start small businesses of their own, and several small canneries were started in the 1910s and 1920s to can tomato paste and products for the rapidly growing Italian market.7 Later these new canneries expanded and canned other fruits and vegetables. Although they were eventually sold to large corporations, the family firms started by Italians were a source of employment for many Italian relatives and friends (Philips 1980).

In 1908 more than 60 percent of the cannery labor force consisted of first-generation immigrants, with southern European and Asian men and southern European women predominating.8 By 1920 about 50 percent of the labor force was foreign-born, and southern European immigrants (mostly Italians) still formed the largest groups (Brown 1981:259). Native-born men dominated the semiskilled and highly skilled jobs, whereas immigrant men and women outnumbered the native-born in unskilled jobs (Brown 1981:270).

As early as 1911 there was evidence of new ethnic and racial employment policies that overlapped the sexual division of labor in canneries. The U.S. Immigration Commission found that in cannery employment, “Italians and Portuguese, as well as the English-speaking, are well represented among the forewomen, [f]or with the exception of Asiastics [sic] and Mexicans, it is the general policy to employ a number of a given race to supervise the work of the members of that race/9 Employers usually did not promote Mexican women to higher paid supervisory positions (Ruiz 1982:59). Apparently, besides their race, forewomen were chosen by their ability to enforce discipline. Elizabeth Nicholas, who worked in Santa Clara Valley canneries during the 1920s, recalled: “They [forewomen] were always picked by the companies, and were someone that could have the authority, could be stern, and could tell you off”/10

Women who did hand processing (with piece-rates) had to fulfill production quotas to keep their jobs. Elizabeth Nicholas recalled: “You were checked when you were given this box of uncut fruit, and if you didn’t finish it in a certain length of time, equivalent to 29 cents an hour, well then they gracefully sort of eased you out” (Krooth and Greenberg 1978:13). Women’stood around tables and faced one another while they worked, and they occasionally helped one another finish a box of fruit:

It was cooperative. There were women who would like to finish that extra box. They’d help you finish one night; and you’d help them finish another night…. There was an understanding, a way of working this out, that you helped each other out. Yet if someone became too hoggish, you just ignored them. There was no discussion. They’d get angry, but nothing was said about it. (Elizabeth Nicholas, quoted in Krooth and Greenberg 1978:14)

Because of this camaraderie, Nicholas recalled: “I liked working in the cannery. I would say that about 30 percent of us did. There was something about the way it was organized, what you were able to do as a group of people, what you were able to put out…. There was a certain amount of challenge in this whole thing” (Krooth and Greenberg 1978:14). Nonetheless, women complained when they believed that the checkers did not fully record all of the produce they had processed.

A kind of informal seniority ranking arose since these women who met requirements to be at work on time and on a regular basis were most likely to be retained (Brown and Philips 1983b: 14). However, there was no job security: “You were never hired for the season,” Elizabeth Nicholas recalled, “but you were hired for a particular crop for as long as it lasted.” According to Nicholas, this “was a way of getting rid of people they didn’t want” (Krooth and Greenberg 1978:12). Women were paid different rates for each type of produce— apricots were the lowest paid because they matured first, and there were usually plenty of available workers.

Once conveyor belts were introduced into canneries, the piece-rate system pitted women manual workers against one another. To make good wages, these workers had to secure positions on the line near where the produce first entered the department so that they would have plenty of produce to process. One Mexican-American woman, who worked under this system, recalled the competition for produce:

There were two long tables with sinks that you find in old-fashioned houses and fruit would come down out of the chutes and we would wash them and put them out on a belt. I had the first place so I could work for as long as I wanted. Women in the middle hoarded fruit because the work wouldn’t last forever and the women at the end really suffered. Sometimes they would stand there for hours before any fruit would come down for them to wash. They just got the leftovers. Those at the end of the line hardly made nothing.11

“Often a disagreement arises between women concerning who shall have the best positions to begin with,” one male worker at the time observed (Anthony 1928, cited in Brown 1981:53). Supervisors sometimes favored their friends and members of their own ethnic group (Ruiz 1982:40). When favoritism occurred, “discontent was bound to spread” (Anthony 1928, cited in Ruiz 1982:40).12 Apparently, fore–women had complete discretion in assigning women to workstations, and if they favored members of their own ethnic group, it created conflict or resentment among the women workers.

Working conditions at this time were bad. Canneries were poorly lit, Women’stood on their feet all day, and bathroom facilities were poor (Ruiz 1982: chap. 1). Women workers started the shift at five in the morning and worked until all of the day’s fruit was processed, occasionally as long as eighteen hours. When they were not actually working, women had to wait around without pay for the raw produce to be delivered.

All of these early twentieth-century conditions were documented by a California Industrial Welfare Commission study, which recommended protective legislation. Beginning in 1913, various protective laws were passed. In 1916 the California Industrial Welfare Commission regulated piece-rates and provided a guaranteed minimum wage of sixteen cents an hour for women and children working a ten-hour day in canneries.13 The commission also regulated conditions in the factories, setting standards for room lighting, rest rooms, and the provision of stools and foot rests for women workers. Since produce is perishable, canneries were exempted from the maximum-hours provisions of the legislation, so workers could work more than ten hours a day or sixty hours a week “in an emergency” situation, which was standard for the industry (Ruiz 1982:47).14 An audIt’system was set up by the California Industrial Welfare Commission (in 1919) to check whether women were making an hourly minimum wage. Canners could be forced to raise the piece-rates if two-thirds of the women were not making a minimum wage (Cardellino 1984:48–49).15

Compliance with the commission’s directives on plant conditions was in effect voluntary. Since there were few provisions for enforcement of these measures, women continually had to struggle with management to gain better working conditions. In one plant women threatened a wildcat strike to get stools on the job (Krooth and Greenberg 1978:24). Various other strikes occurred to gain union recognition and better working conditions.

The Struggle for Unionization

The main issue in a cannery strike in 1917 was low wages. Workers objected when management began adding extra produce to women’s boxes without raising the piece-rates, which in effect decreased total wages. The strike was led by the Toilers of the World, an offshoot of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies). The Toilers advocated unionization of farm and cannery workers and wage increases for all unskilled laborers. However, women were not members of the Toilers of the World but participated only as wives and daughters of the male members (Greenberg 1978:9). The strike was unsuccessful for several reasons. The World War I-inspired xenophobia fueled fears that the strike was led by alien “conspirators.” The Toilers of the World were red-baited, and widespread violence followed mass demonstrations. Since disruption of production was considered an impediment to the war effort, the federal government intervened to negotiate a settlement. Workers were forced to return to work in exchange for wage increases (for male workers only) and with no recognition of the union. Many of the strikers felt betrayed. After another short-lived strike in 1919, the canners gave women a rate increase from twenty-eight to thirty-three cents an hour (Ruiz 1982:81–89; Greenberg 1978). The distinction between “men’s” and “Women’s” jobs remained, and Women’s wages dropped to about 69 percent of men’s wages in 1920 (Brown 1981:123).

Another unionization attempt began in response to a wage cut caused by the Depression. The Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union (CAWIU) organized a widespread strike in 1931. The strikers demanded the restoration of the 1930 wage scale, an end to favoritism by supervisors, an end to the twelve-hour day, provisions for overtime pay, equal pay for equal work regardless of age or sex, free transportation to work for women, and recognition of CAWIU as the formal bargaining agent (Ruiz 1982:90; Mathews 1975; Krooth and Greenberg 1978:19; Brown 1981:51). The walkout itself was successful. Elizabeth Nicholas recalled, “I think we had every cannery shut down tight. No one came to work that day” (Krooth and Greenberg 1978:19).

However, the American Federation of Labor would not grant a charter to the fledging union. According to Elizabeth Nicholas, who was an organizer for the CAWIU, it was because the workers were seasonal and could not be depended on for yearly union dues. Additionally, for its broad social aims, the CAWIU was considered “utopian” (Mathews 1975) or even Communist.16 The CAWIU sought the “unity of all agricultural workers—field workers and fruit and vegetable cannery workers” (CAWIU Union Book, 1938, cited in Brown and Philips 1983b:17). The union also attempted to organize all workers without regard to sex or race (Mathews 1975).17 Furthermore, many of the leaders of the CAWIU belonged to the U.S. Communist party, although most of the workers did not even know this. Elizabeth Nicholas claimed: “I don’t think they [the workers] ever thought of it as being Communist, ” although she noted that many of the European immigrant workers, especially those from Spain, had a “background of radicalism” (Krooth and Greenberg 1978:21,19). The strike was broken by the third day, primarily because of highly repressive law enforcement. A mass demonstration at St. James Park, reportedly held by fifteen hundred people (Jamison, 1945, cited in Mathews 1975), turned into a riot after protestors marched to City Hall and clashed with police and antiunion demonstrators. Emilio Soliz, one of my informants who had been a strike sympathizer, recalled what was then the worst riot in San Jose’s history:

We went to protest there by City Hall. In those times there was an order that the police would not hit the women. They would hit the men all they wanted but not the women. So we decided to put the women and children up front so that the police wouldn't attack us. But then the fire engines came, and they attacked the workers with billy clubs and fire hoses. They put the fire hoses on so strong that they pushed the children behind the women. Well, they gave us a good bath, and we retreated.

Some sixty prounion demonstrators were arrested. The next day about half of the strikers returned to work, and the following day the strike was over. The strike proved unsuccessful because the canners diverted their raw produce to other Bay Area plants, preventing any appreciable strike loss. In the context of the Depression, the canners were in a much better position to hold out than were the workers.18

After the failure of the 1931 cannery strike, leaders of the CAWIU shifted to a highly successful campaign to organize field workers throughout California.19 In response, the Associated Farmers launched a campaign to rid the state of its so-called red menace, various violent incidents followed, and the CAWIU disintegrated when its leaders were jailed for violating the California Criminal Syndicalism Act (1919). After the CAWIU became defunct, the membership was encouraged to join the American Federation of Labor.20

The Depression had other consequences for the composition of the cannery labor force. During the Depression, the work force was still composed primarily of white ethnics, with Italians predominating in San Jose and the Portuguese in Santa Clara (Mathews 1975).21 Mexicans were only 2 percent of the total Santa Clara County labor force in 1928.22 Furthermore, the white ethnic cannery workers tended to be second generation—the children of immigrants, which meant that they were English speakers—and many resided in cannery worker neighborhoods in the valley (Mathews 1975). One former worker later recalled that the cannery work force was relatively young at this time: “very few [workers] were around after 30 years of age/23

The widespread migration to California of people from the dust bowl and other areas during the Depression posed a threat to those with cannery jobs. Because of the high unemployment, cannery jobs were at a premium. In 1933, bowing to political pressure, nearby Monterey and Pacific Grove chambers of commerce instituted a system whereby jobs in local fish canneries would go first to those with six months of residence in the county.24 Emilio Soliz recalled that these actions were done to protect local people’s jobs and to exclude “outside agitators” who were pushing for union recognition. The exclusionist sentiments quickly took hold, and many would-be workers found it difficult to find jobs in Santa Clara Valley canneries. The result was that Mexicans, ‘Okies,” Blacks, and other migrants were restricted from getting jobs in canneries. According to Mexican informant Jesse Valenzuela, during the Depression “the canneries were controlled by the Italians and Portuguese,” so he had to lie about his ethnicity and claim kinship with another worker to get hired. A study of seasonal employment in California confirmed my informants’ recollections of the difficulties of securing cannery employment at this time. This study found that “between 50 and 60 percent” of the cannery workers interviewed had members of their immediate families working in the same plant. Furthermore, the average duration of state residence of cannery workers was fifteen years, and the percentage of cannery workers from out of state was “practically negligible” (State of California 1939:53–54). According to my informants, and confirmed by Elizabeth Nicholas (Krooth and Greenberg 1978), there were few Mexican-Americans working in Santa Clara Valley canneries before World War II.

Economic factors and increased labor agitation stimulated another phase of cannery mechanization during the Depression. Protective legislation had reduced the advantages of Women’s casual hand labor, and the union drives threatened to raise further the wages of women’s work (Brown and Philips 1983b:9). Therefore, canners began to mechanize the seasonal preparation tasks of women, and various Cutting and pitting machines were slowly introduced to different factories (Brown 1981:47–53).25 With the exception of sorting, women increasingly worked as machine operators.

The consequences of the mechanization of “women’s jobs” were contradictory from the workers’ point of view. The new machines placed the pace of production in the hands of management, they fragmented the production process further, and productivity increased. Where individual productivity could be measured, the machine operator positions were paid by piece-rates. Women workers at the time indicated that they had preferred the piece-rate system when working by hand, because they could make more money if they worked faster, and it allowed a respite from the fast pace since they could slow down when tired (Brown 1981:60). Women also could converse with one another, as Elizabeth Nicholas recalled, “if you wanted to give the time” (Krooth and Greenberg 1978:13). After introduction of the new machines, there was a sharp rise in the frequency of occupational injuries, indicating that workers were either mentally or physically exhausted and that there were inadequate safety provisions on the new machinery. Under the pressure of piece-rate mechanized jobs, women workers often took risks—for example, attempting to rig the counting device on a peach cutter. Accidents such as severed fingers resulted (Krooth and Greenberg 1978:18). Occupational injury rates increased, reaching their highest point ever in 1942 (Brown 1981:62). Mechanization transformed cannery work from agricultural to industrial labor, however, and this ensured that seasonal cannery workers were included under the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act. Management-controlled production also eliminated supervisory abuse when placing women on the line, which had been a key organizing issue in the 1931 strike.

Many changes had occurred during the Depression. Between 1930 and 1950 the Santa Clara Valley became the most important center of production of canned goods in the United States (Claus 1966). Changes in the production process consolidated a large, urban, and relatively stable work force despite the ethnic diversity, and a persistent militancy developed on the part of cannery workers. Furthermore, in contrast to the agricultural labor market, which remained informally organized, cannery work became industrial labor. These changes facilitated union recognition.

In the fifteen years between the cannery strike of 1931 and unionization in 1946, intense rivalry grew among various unions attempting to organize northern California cannery workers. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters union viewed their jurisdiction as including cannery warehouse workers, so they wanted to organize cannery production workers too. In 1935 the American Federation of Labor began issuing charters for “federal” locals to cannery workers as well.26 Several of these locals began cannery-organizing drives with the Warehousemen’s Union, which was affiliated with the International Longshoremen’s Association.

Mike Elorduy, secretary-treasurer of the Teamster Cannery Workers Council, recalled that their aim was to gain an industrywide union with uniform wage rates, as opposed to craft-union structure, which organized only craft workers.27 If they could organize this type of union, individual employers would not be able to “whipsaw” the workers—keep wages lower at particular plants by threatening to hire unorganized workers (Brown 1978:6). But the process could work two ways, so without the protection of an association of canners, individual canning firms could be “whipsawed” by pressure to conform to higher union wage rates. California Processors and Growers, a canners association, was formed in 1936 with hopes of forestalling unionization by setting an industrywide uniform wage scale and making provisions to process each other’s produce in the event of strikes (Gilb 1957; Ruiz 1982:102–105). A showdown came in 1937, when Stockton cannery workers staged a walkout to gain higher wages and union recognition of one of the AFL “federal locals.” The canners resisted by locking out the workers, and picketers were attacked in the worst riot in Stockton’s history—later known as “bloody Friday.”

Once it became clear that unionization would happen, California Processors and Growers planned to favor a union of their choice. J. Paul St. Sure, the lawyer representing California Processors and Growers at the time, later recalled: “The quid pro quo was that in return for assistance in organizing … that we might avoid the violence or disturbing problems of organization…. We’d come off more cheaply in the long run by having avoided trouble and perhaps by getting an easier deal.”28 The canners also wanted a union that would not organize farm workers, since many of them either owned large tracts of farm acreage (Ruiz 1982:105) or had produce-supplying arrangements with particular farmers (Brown and Philips 1983b:18).

With the help of canning management, the State Federation of Labor engaged in “union substitution” (Thomas and Friedland 1982) by imposing a union that was not the choice of cannery workers. Breaking with the AFL national leadership, State Federation of Labor secretary Edward Vandeleur denied the legitimacy of the AFL “federal” union because, he alleged, outsiders were on the picket lines. He recognized instead the Stockton Cannery Workers Union (SCWU); virtually all members of the SCWU held supervisory positions. Members of California Processors and Growers signed an agreement that recognized SCWU as the sole bargaining agent for Stockton cannery workers and stipulated that there would be no connections with the Agricultural Workers Union. This imposition of a “company union” set a precedent. The State Federation of Labor then dissolved the “federal” locals and with the help of management formed new AFL locals throughout northern California.

The first collective-bargaining agreement between California Processors and Growers and the American Federation of Labor was signed in 1937. This brought changes in the organization of production. Management agreed to an eight-hour working day with a forty-eight-hour (six-day) work week. During the processing season, however, the contract allowed a sixty-hour week for men, with a ten-hour work day, before overtime applied, and up to a two-hour recess (without pay) if work was stopped by circumstances beyond the control of the employer. In 1937 there was a simultaneous sharp increase in productivity (as indicated in value-added rates per worker) and in real wages for workers (Brown 1981:40).

Women’s working hours, still regulated by the Industrial Welfare Commission, were based on a forty-eight-hour, six-day work week with overtime pay for work beyond twelve hours a day.29 In fact, the overtime pay for women working less than twelve hours made their hourly wage equal to the regular hourly wages for men. This occurred because of an informal agreement between the union and California Processors and Growers, so that “the Women’s earnings would not exceed the men’s.”30 Furthermore, in 1932 the Industrial Welfare Commission had ruled that women could not lift more than twenty-five pounds. This restricted women from certain men’s jobs that required heaving lifting.

Although unionization benefited workers by providing better wages, the contract stabilized a long work day. Canners frequently violated their agreement with the AFL locals by ignoring wage scales or overtime rates (Ruiz 1982:112–113; Rose 1972:68). The collective-bargaining agreement also institutionalized the engendered division of work into “men’s” and “Women’s” jobs and formalized the wage disparities between women and men. Furthermore, in 1939, with the support of the AFL union, unemployment benefits were extended to include seasonal cannery workers. The union lobbied to have cannery workers included in unemployment-compensation legislation—which provided incentives for workers to return to seasonal cannery employment rather than find other jobs—so that the union would have a stable membership (Brown and Philips 1983b:20).

Meanwhile, the United Cannery, Agriculturál, Packing and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA) had been organizing and recruiting members of the old AFL federal locals as well as independent unions. “The founders of UCAPAWA shared a vision of a national decentralized labor union … in which power flowed from below” (Ruiz 1982:131). As stated in its constitution, the UCAPAWA aimed to “unite all workers in our industry on an industrial and democratic basis, regardless of age, sex, nationality, race, creed, color or political and religious beliefs, and pursue at all times a policy of aggressive activity to improve our social and economic conditions” (1938, cited in Ruiz 1982:133). UCAPAWA organizers and officers came from all sectors of the working class, and women and Chicanas in particular held significant numbers of leadership positions (Ruiz 1982:chap. V).31 The union was left oriented and continually red-baited. But as organizer and international vice-president Louisa Morena noted, it was not a “Communist-controlled” union as was alleged (Ruiz 1982:135).

In 1937 the Santa Clara County local of the UCAPAWA filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that fifteen AFL locals were “company unions” and charging management with coercing cannery workers.32 The NLRB ruled in favor of the UCAPAWA in 1940, prohibiting further interference in labor organizing on the part of California Processors and Growers. However, the closed-shop agreement between the American Federation of Labor State Council of the Cannery Unions and California Processors and Growers continued (Ruiz 1982:116).

The union rivalry continued through the duration of World War II. Between 1938 and 1945 AFL cannery union members in Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, and Sunnyvale managed to take control of their locals. In contrast, San Jose, Oakland, and Hayward continued as “company unions” (Ruiz 1982:206). Informant Emilio Soliz had worked at a Sunnyvale plant and had strong opinions on the contrast between the two unions: “The AFL has always been a ‘moneygate’ union, nothing more. They never never have been a union which protects the workers.” He was a staunch supporter of the UCAPAWA and later an organizer for the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union, which was affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. “We wanted a union that would be of the workers, that truly responded to the needs of the worker. ” Despite the fact that the CIO union was continually red-baited, there were more than 124,000 UCAPAWA members in 1939.

World War II brought changes to the cannery work force. There was constant turnover of employees, especially among the men, as workers entered defense-industry jobs or joined the armed forces. Also, the war effort required increased production of canned foods, and canneries were regulated by the National War Labor Board, which cut the length of the workday. The result of these changes was a severe labor shortage. Women and children were recruited from all over the state to work in canneries, schools were used to house and feed workers, and school buses provided transportation (Cardellino 1984:62).

The expansion of the canning industry was part of the war-induced growth in Santa Clara County. From a population of 68,459 in 1940, the county expanded to 95,280 in 1950, 204,196 in 1960, and 445,779 in 1970 (U.S. Census 1982a). During this time, many Mexican-Americans began settling in San Jose, migrating from south Texas or Mexico. The Mexican-American population in Santa Clara County increased from 35,306 in 1950 to 226,611 in 1970, a growth of more than 600 percent (U.S. Bureau of Census 1950, 1982b).33 Many of these new residents began working in canneries: “The major economic magnet drawing the Mexican-Americans [to San Jose] was the canning industry which enabled families to have a relatively stable source of employment and to earn enough to stay in one locale throughout the year” (Sánchez and Wagner 1979:9).34 By 1946 “Spanish-speaking” individuals (which may have included a few Spanish immigrants) made up about one-third of the northern California cannery labor force eligible to vote in union elections (Ruiz 1982:213). These new workers would play an important role in the ongoing union rivalry.

On May 2, 1945, in response to Teamster pressure, AFL President William Green, with the approval of the Executive Board, turned over jurisdiction of California cannery locals to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The Teamsters leaders had threatened to destroy the cannery union unless the AFL capitulated.35 In protest over the Teamster takeover, about which the AFL members had not been informed, workers in Sacramento, Stockton, and Modesto staged strikes or temporary work stoppages but to little avail. The disgruntled AFL members approached the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (FTA-CIO) for help.36 In August 1945 the FTA launched a campaign to organize northern California workers for the CIO. For the next four years there was an acrimonious jurisdictional dispute between the CIO cannery unions and the Teamsters.

In 1945 the FTA-CIO won the election for union representation of cannery workers, defeating both the company unions and the Teamsters. However, the Teamsters challenged the election results with the NLRB, claiming that at least a thousand votes were improper. The Teamsters began a major counteroffensive, applying intense political pressure on the NLRB and claiming that the board was dominated by radicals. They also staged an effective national blockage of goods going to and from California canneries. Despite a recommendation by its own staff to certify the election, the NLRB dismissed the election results and ordered a new election.

In the spring of 1946, California Processors and Growers (CPG) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, in flagrant violation of the law, defied the NLRB and entered into a closed-shop agreement. J. Paul St. Sure stated that the canners considered the Teamsters to be the more “responsible” union, since it would be the sole bargaining unit for thousands of workers spread over northern California and would represent production and warehouse workers within the same plant. For these reasons the CPG actively encouraged unionization by the Teamsters (Gilb 1957:141). Cannery workers throughout northern California resisted this imposition of a union without a proper election. They staged protests and formed picket lines around canneries. The companies locked out the workers, and the Teamsters retaliated with violence, assaulting even women workers in a “reign of terror” that some likened to “civil war” (Ruiz 1982:221–224; Rose 1972). In addition, California Processors and Growers hired a public relations firm and took out full-page ads in various northern California newspapers, portraying the NLRB as the villain and their own actions as reasonable.

FTA sympathizers were red-baited and subjected to violence and intimidation. On the Sunday before the second election, priests throughout San Jose encouraged the predominantly Catholic Italian and Portuguese cannery workers to vote for the Teamsters. Emilio Soliz recalled the effects of this advice: “Naturally all of the people were Catholic. So how could they vote for the FTA-CIO union if the priests told them they would be voting for a subversive union?” The priests’ admonitions were one of many elements exacerbating a tense climate. According to Emilio Soliz, the recent migrants from Texas and Mexico were another problem because they did not want to support any union: “They didn’t know anything, and they were afraid to lose their jobs after just arriving. ” In August 1946 the Teamsters won the second election by 1,400 votes out of a total of 31,800 votes cast.

The FTA challenged the election results, but it wasn’t until 1949 that the NLRB found the CPG guilty of unfair labor practices and ordered the reinstatement of workers who had been dismissed for CIO activity. Emilio Soliz recalled that he and his fellow organizers received lump sums of cash, but by the time they received the funds they had already found other jobs. The NLRB also upheld the validity of the Teamster contract, and the FTA locals disbanded.37

The Teamsters won the right to represent cannery workers by dubious means. Without a strong base of support and with the Teamsters’ reputation for negotiating “sweetheart contracts,’’ the prospects for a strong union did not seem bright. Yet the force of a large, national Teamsters union would help in contract negotiations.

During the period of union rivalry, women’s wages relative to men’s wages accelerated significantly. In 1947 women received about 83 percent of men’s wages (Brown 1981:123). The CIO’s aim of equal wages for all workers pressured the AFL to increase women’s wages (Brown 1981:124), and the war-induced labor shortage contributed to wage increases.

Maturation of the Canning Industry

After World War II canning greatly expanded in the Santa Clara Valley, and the miles of orchards that supplied fruit to the canneries led one publicist to dub it the “Valley of the Heart’s Delight. ’’ The canned fruit and vegetable industry was the largest manufacturing employer in California in 1947 (Cardellino 1984). The Santa Clara Valley produced about 90 percent of California’s canned fruits and vegetables, which amounted to about 25 percent of the national pack (Claus 1966:48). The war brought enormous increases in profits, especially to the large canners.38

At this time another wave of mechanization began, with the major impetus being the severe labor shortage during the war. Many machines and practices that were standard in the industry a generation later were first introduced after the 1940s (State of California 1962). Mechanization spread to various canneries between 1950 and 1960, and in recent years the industry has moved from conveyorized production to full-scale automation.39 Canners also moved into frozen and dehydrated foods.

Table 1. Average annual number of production workers in California canning industry, 1939–72

The canning industry had spectacular growth in output until 1960; production declined between 1960 and 1970 but then increased again. By 1974 more than 146 million cases were produced in California canneries. Yet employment was declining because mechanization reduced the number of job opportunities in the industry, particularly the unskilled jobs. Throughout the state, annual average wage employment in canneries began dropping after 1958 (see Table 1).40 In Santa Clara County, the number of cannery-production workers also declined after 1958. From 1950 to 1958 annual average employment fluctuated between 9,300 and 10,300. But from 1958 to 1962 employment was in the range of 8,400 to 9,100 (State of California 1962:35). In the early 1970s, the employment levels were lower than in 1950. Only 8,300 wage and salary workers were employed by canneries in Santa Clara County in 1972. In the following years, the number increased somewhat, so by 1976 canneries employed 9,200 people (State of California 1978).

Canning remained among the top five manufacturing industries in California until 1963 and was among the top ten as late as 1977 (Cardellino 1984:74–76). By the midsixties, however, there was already evidence of maturation in the canning industry as it underwent another process of concentration. From a high of more than 300 California canning firms in 1919, there were only 160 canning firms in 1971 (Philips 1980:181).41 The industry was dominated by three corporations, Del Monte; Libby, McNeill and Libby; and Hunt-Wesson, which had diversified operations.

Profit margins, which have always been variable, were low between 1968 and 1977, averaging 3 percent and declining in the late 1970s (Thor 1982:Table 4).42 Canning became increasingly unattractive to investors, and marketing became more competitive. There also has been a decline in the importance of the processors’ labels with an increase in the volume packed under labels for retail stores or distributors (the generic brands, which often cost less to consumers).

Furthermore, the market for canned fruits and vegetables (with the exception of tomatoes) has been declining (Brown 1981). The high prices of canned food relative to fresh fruits and vegetables, along with increased awareness of the high salt or sugar levels in canned food, has led to consumer preferences for fresh food (Thor 1982; Goldberg and Wilson 1982).43 Further concentration of the industry will probably continue as canning firms are bought up by conglomerates with diversified operations or by grower cooperatives.44 These changes portend a highly competitive and unstable canning industry in years to come.

The Teamsters Union

Unionization has brought about increased wages and benefits for cannery workers. By 1976 workers enjoyed cost-of-living adjustments, eleven paid holidays, and pension, medical, dental, drug, and vision plans (California Processors, Inc., et al. 1976). However, these union benefits disproportionately favored skilled, year-round workers. At first, the collective-bargaining agreement had classified jobs as male and female. In 1967 under the impetus of the Fair Employment Practices clause (Title VII) of the Civil Rights Act, a system of wage “brackets” (occupational categories with corresponding wage rates) was established, and a distinction between “seasonal” and “regular” (year-round) workers was made. By 1976 regular status came to be defined as working fourteen hundred hours a year, and seasonal status was achieved when a worker had more than thirty days on the job but less than fourteen hundred hours a year.45 Regular workers had much better medical benefits and pension plans.46 As we have seen, the regular workers were predominantly male, whereas the majority of seasonal workers were female.

Teamsters policy, as reflected in the collective bargaining agreements, was not overtly discriminatory toward minority-group and women workers. Rather, informal practices in conjunction with management and the lack of advocacy for the needs of seasonal workers had a discriminatory effect. The union’s distinction among workers illustrates the discriminatory informal practice, and its policy on mechanization reflects its inadequate concern with job loss by seasonal members.

Before 1973, and corresponding to this distinction in the labor force, there were two seniority lists, consisting of regular and seasonal seniority workers. Once one was placed on the seasonal seniority list, one was called back to a seasonal job the next season. It was virtually impossible for seasonal workers to get hired in full-time jobs and achieve regular status.47

After 1973 the collective-bargaining agreement was changed so that the seniority lists were merged, with the regular workers placed above the seasonal employees. This merger of the lists came to be known as the “grandfathering” of the lists, in which year-round male workers were given an advantage over the seasonal women workers.

The distinction between seasonal and regular workers created a barrier to job mobility for women and minority-group workers and was maintained by two informal mechanisms. A seasonal employee’s rate of pay was based on whether she or he had worked 50 percent of the time at a particular job. For example, label-machine operators would return to this job the following season if they had spent more than half of their time operating this machine, even if they had been assigned to temporary jobs such as sorting. This allowed the workers to “establish the bracket”; that is, the rate of pay would be the higher one regardless of the temporary work assignments.

The second informal mechanism was the “incumbency rule” in the contract. This rule allowed a worker with low seniority to work in a higher-paying seasonal job and to reclaim that high-paying job the following season even if a worker with higher seniority wanted that job. The problem was not in the wording of the contract clause itself, which did not actually specify a previous claim to a job, but in the way it was interpreted. The interpretation by canners was that an incumbent in a high-paying seasonal job had “dibs” on that job the following season. Once workers had spent more than half of their time on the job, they “established their bracket”—could permanently claim the higher-paying position. White male workers were often hired temporarily for higher-paying positions, and then the following season were considered incumbents. Thus, the effect of these practices was to promote white male seasonal workers into full-time jobs. “The incumbency rule may be the single practice which most hinders the movement of women and minority group cannery workers into higher-paying, full-year jobs.”48

The Teamster policy on cannery mechanization is another example of a union policy that does not intentionally exclude certain workers, but it has discriminatory consequences. The following is the full extent of the Teamster policy on automation-mechanization in canneries: “A joint Committee consisting of an equal number of Employer and Union representatives shall develop procedures for continuation of studies of automation and mechanization in the plants covered by the Agreement” (California Processors, Inc., et al. 1982:77). This provision has remained the same since at least 1976 (through two periods of contract negotiations), despite plant closures, which began in the late seventies. Few of the cannery workers I interviewed had heard of the committee. Apparently, it rarely met and issued one report that claimed that most of the jobs lost because of mechanization were offset by the creation of new jobs with increased production by the cannery (State of California 1962). Yet there were inadequate data to verify this claim. While the canning industry was undergoing massive mechanization, which could decrease the number of cannery jobs, the Teamsters union was studying the problem and pointing out the positive aspects of mechanization. We have seen how mechanization in the past had very serious consequences for women workers.

The union also did not vigorously enforce the retention of wage brackets in the face of mechanization. In the 1976 contract, a clause was inserted that required workers to spend all of their time at a particular job in order to retain the higher wage rates. Since then, when positions have been abolished, workers have been reclassified or “bumped down,” and it has been impossible to retain one’s wage rate. As a result, workers who have had many years of seniority have dropped to lower wage rates as mechanization has been introduced. Another union provision states: “The company shall notify the local union at least ten days before a job is to be abolished” (California Processors, Inc., et al. 1982:17). Finally, employees who are permanently laid off as a result of the closure of a processing plant or warehouse unit get thirty days notice and severance pay. In contrast to other unions that take an aggressive stance against displacement of workers by mechanization, the Teamsters union has provided little support for cannery workers who have faced loss of jobs through mechanization or plant closures.49

Job Segmentation

There is severe occupational segregation of women, particularly minority women in the cannery labor force. Women represented 47 percent of the Santa Clara County peak season cannery labor force in 1973 (California Processors, Inc., 1974).50 Yet there were few women in supervisory or skilled positions: In the six highest paying jobs, women represented only 7 percent of the Santa Clara County work force.51 The concentration of ethnic women in unskilled, low-paying jobs is also clear: 66 percent of the male labor force and 70 percent of the female labor force in northern California canneries were identified as having a Spanish surname in 1973 (California Processors, Inc., 1974, cited in Brown 1981). Yet Chicanas represented only 4 percent of the highest paid workers in Santa Clara County (see Table 2).

When one examines each wage category (or “bracket”) separately, the concentration of ethnic women is more striking. All females make up only 3.0 percent of the highest paying jobs (Bracket I), and Chicanas represent only 0.5 percent of that wage group. In Bracket II, the proportion of both women and Chicanas is 2.0 percent each. Women comprise 12.0 percent of the Bracket III jobs; Chicanas alone make up only 7.0 percent of that category.

Table 2. Number and percentage of Spanish-surnamed and female cannery workers in top three wage brackets during peak season, Santa Clara County, 1973

Mexican-American men fared slightly better. Chicano men comprised 28 percent of the Santa Clara County peak-season cannery labor force in 1973. Yet they had 40 percent of the Bracket I jobs, 67 percent of the Bracket II jobs, and 60 percent of the Bracket III jobs.

The situation for the off-season labor force—which includes warehouse workers, skilled workers, or high-seniority production workers—is similar. Women, and particularly Chicanas, are disproportionately concentrated in the lower-paying jobs (see Table 3). Only 1.0 percent of the craftspersons were female, and 0.2 percent were Mexican-American women. Women were 6.0 percent of the off-season operatives and 56.0 percent of the laborers. Chicanas were 4.0 percent of the off-season operatives and 38.0 percent of the laborers. Operatives and laborers (Brackets IV and V, respectively) were the two lowest paying categories and together make up 74.0 percent of the off-season jobs. Women had 63.0 percent, and Chicanas had 42.0 percent of these low-paying jobs. The situation for Chicano men was again slightly better. They held 47.0 percent of the off-season craft positions, 66.0 percent of the operative positions, and 36.0 percent of the laborer positions.

This statistical picture is confirmed in interviews with workers, who note that those working on the lines are “puras mexicanas” (nothing but Mexican women). As Emilio Soliz phrased it, “In San Jose, when you’re talking about mexicanos, you’re talking about cannery workers.’

Clearly, there are two labor forces in canneries. Men—especially white men—have the year-round, skilled, or supervisory positions, and women, especially Mexican-American women, fill the lower-level, seasonal positions. Brown correctly argued: “The IBT [International Brotherhood of Teamsters] advocated and effectively carried out a policy of preserving proportionate wage differentials for different level workers … and institutionalized the predominantly female seasonal labor force into a distinct seniority system which tended to limit their prospects for promotion into the higher level jobs’’ (Brown 1981:124, emphasis added). The overall effect of various Teamster policies, including the inadequate concern with mechanization, has created differences in job mobility between women and men and has contributed to occupational segregation by gender and race.

In addition, there were marked age differences between regular and seasonal cannery workers. Regular workers were relatively evenly

Table 3. Numbers and percentage of Spanish-surnamed and female cannery workers during off season, Santa Clara County, 1973, by job classification

distributed in all age categories. However, long-term seasonal workers (those with four or more years of unbroken service) had a greater proportion of older workers (Winklevoss 1978). Increasingly, the seasonal labor force included middle-aged workers, who would be particularly vulnerable once canneries began closing. These differences in age distributions also contributed to the dissatisfaction that many seasonal cannery workers had regarding the lack of job mobility by women and minorities.

The differences in status and benefits among Teamster members are not unique to cannery workers. Teamsters generally tend to negotiate better packages for their “core” members, usually skilled, male workers. This stems from the Teamster philosophy of “business unionism,” the notion that union structure is determined by the structure of industry, and workers who are “important” to a firm should be better compensated.52 Since mechanization increases the proportion of skilled workers, Teamster wage increases favor them. The Teamsters also seek to organize all workers in agriculture vertically, “from field to truck” (sometimes at the expense of other unions). Cannery workers are peripheral since they are a small portion of the Western Conference of Teamsters membership.53 But there also is a clear pattern of the Teamster’s indifference to the interests of women. Between 1971 and 1975, for example, only 12 percent of the grievances that the Teamsters took to the Arbitration Board (the final step of the grievance procedure) were taken on behalf of women. Stated differently, “the Teamsters spent 63 percent of their Arbitration Board time, resources and effort on behalf of Anglo men, who comprised only 30 percent of the cannery workforce.”54

The cannery workers who intervened in the race- and sex-discrimination suit argued that the canners and Teamsters union officials had not conspired to discriminate against women and minority-group workers but that there was a lack of enforcement of the collective-bargaining agreements, and informal mechanisms that had a discriminatory effect were constructed. “Discrimination has taken place as both canneries [sic] and unions ignore the provisions of the collective bargaining contract, and instead, create their own sets of vaguely defined and changeable rules of operation within each cannery and within each department.’55 These informal mechanisms and their discriminatory consequences are evidence of institutionalized racism and sexism (Knowles and Prewitt 1969).

Teamster Discontent

Among my informants, there was widespread dissatisfaction with the Teamsters union. Even relatively apolitical workers had few positive things to say about Teamster leadership or how the union functioned. The major complaints involved the weak grievance procedure, especially regarding the loss of jobs or wage brackets caused by mechanization, and the lack of union democracy.

In 1969 the Mexican American Workers Educational Committee was founded in San Jose. Informant Daniel Rodríguez, one of the founding members, described the concerns that led to the creation of this committee: “Well I saw many injustices; they would fire workers, almost, as they say, Tor being ugly.’ The union didn’t do anything for them…. Their grievances were the only ones that they paid attention to. And as the workers didn’t have any consciousness, they would fire them and everything, scold them, humiliate them, and treat them bad, and they would stay quiet.” The members began meeting to discuss working conditions and to develop organizing strategies that would serve the interests of Chicano and Mexican cannery workers, as well as seasonal women workers. However, the membership was largely male. The original goals were to educate cannery workers regarding their contractual rights and to agitate from within the union. Rodríguez stated: “We formed the committee to pressure the union to defend the rights of workers, so they [the bosses] would give more weight to the union. We were not against the union, but against the union officials.” The Mexican American Workers Educational Committee in San Jose soon changed its name to Comité de Trabajadores de Canería, or Cannery Workers Committee.

At the same time Chicano dissident caucuses were forming in northern California Teamster locals in Sacramento, Hayward, Modesto and Watsonville. The Hayward caucus was founded by women but was originally organized by Chicanas, who had invited the Black and white women to join them. It later joined the regional network of dissident caucuses. Meanwhile, in the Sacramento caucus, women have recently taken over the leadership positions. Most of the San Jose caucus members, on the other hand, whether male or female, were friends, relatives, or compadres (fictive kin) with one another, so the caucuses were built on relationships that were already well established (see Chapter 5).

Members of the regional network of cannery-worker caucuses produced a newsletter, conducted informal research on the pension plan, and attended strategy meetings to plan how to take control of locals within the region.56 The urban caucuses from Sacramento, San Jose, and Hayward were large, and their members were very active in the regional activities.

Disgruntled cannery workers soon found that the Teamster hierarchical structure made change difficult at the local level. The union locals have little power on their own. They elect delegates to attend national conventions where policy is voted upon. Any time a local is considered to be “unstable,” it can be placed in “receivership” and administered directly from the national office. In addition to being part of the Teamster formal structure, all cannery locals belonged to the Teamster State Council of Cannery Workers, a council of cannery locals that negotiated contracts and lobbied state legislators (Brown 1978:9). If most member locals voted to approve a contract, a dissenting local was overridden. Yet the locals were responsible for contract enforcement and grievance procedures.

The manner in which the San Jose cannery local functioned did not allow democratic participation by members. For example, before 1978 union elections were held during the winter, when the seasonal workers were laid off and were often not residing in the area or not attending union meetings. To qualify to run for union office, workers had to have paid dues for twenty-four consecutive months before the nomination period and to have attended half the union meetings during that period.57 This provision in effect excluded the participation of seasonal workers.

Members of the regional caucuses decided to mount a series of legal challenges. In 1971 workers from the regional caucuses filed complaints with the State Fair Employment Practices Commission, and after hearings, their complaints were certified as evidence of discrimination.58 In 1973 workers filed suit alleging race and sex discrimination on the part of California Processors, Inc., and the Teamsters union.

These struggles were given moral and material support by the United Farm Workers Union, led by Cesar Chávez. Many Chicano cannery workers identified with the Chicano nationalist elements of the United Farm Workers movement, since they had either been farm workers themselves or still had relatives and friends who were farm workers.59 In the early 1970s, when the United Farm Workers and the Teamsters were having a jurisdictional battle over which one would represent food-processing workers, the Cannery Workers Committees attempted to organize several decertification elections to remove the Teamsters. Their aim was “Teamsters for Chávez,” to lead cannery workers to the United Farm Workers Union (Brown 1981:246). In 1975 the San Jose caucus ran a slate of caucus members for Teamster union office, a move that was largely symbolic because most of the committee members did not qualify to hold office. After being threatened with an injunction on the election, the Teamster International president agreed to hold peak-season elections in the future.

In 1976 the plaintiffs of the race- and sex-discrimination suit (María Alaníz et al.) won their case against the California Processors, Inc., and the Teamsters California State Council of Cannery and Food Processing Unions. The court ordered the implementation of an affirmative-action program, which would provide access to promotions and better wages by women and minorities. The major changes were the dismantling of the “grandfathered” seniority list and the establishment of plant seniority—based on date of hire regardless of whether it was in a seasonal or regular job—and the elimination of the incumbency rule. The program also established preferential hiring, training programs, and monetary incentives so that women and minorities could qualify for and secure promotions. Affirmative-action “parity”—the goal for hiring victims of discrimination—was defined as women making up 30 percent of the high-paying jobs.60 “Parity” for minorities would equal their proportion of the county population. For Chicanos, this was 17.5 percent.61

The Teamster union was ordered to comply with the changes ordered for the canners, not to intentionally engage in any discriminatory practice, and to provide Spanish translations of all by-laws and collective-bargaining agreements. The Teamsters union and the director of the Affirmative Action Program were ordered to make an annual determination of which minority groups constituted a significant percentage of the union’s active membership and to provide translations of by-laws and contracts in the appropriate language if necessary. The union locals were also ordered to record the number of grievances filed by women and minorities and report them to the State Council of Cannery and Food Processing Unions. Furthermore, the Teamsters State Council was ordered to hire minority and female employees in union staff positions in the same proportion as their representation in the work force.62

A group of workers intervened in the suit because they found the Conciliation Agreement woefully inadequate for several reasons: The goal of 30 percent of new promotions for women did not equal the proportion of women (approximately 50 percent) in the industrywide cannery labor force. Moreover, by lumping all minority-group men and women together, they claimed that the true extent of discrimination against Mexican-American women as distinct from Mexican-American men was denied. The intervenors also believed that the Affirmative Action Program did not have adequate compensations for the discrimination suffered by minority men, who had been denied regular status or jobs with higher wages or who had been forced to wait an extraordinary amount of time for promotions. Furthermore, there was a limitation of one-year’s back pay, which they found inadequately compensated victims of discrimination, and they proposed that the trust fund should be increased to $12.6 million. Finally, there were no monetary fines placed on the Teamsters union for their insouciance regarding the alleged discriminatory practices. The intervenors argued for a reversal of these shortcomings of the Conciliation Agreement, but their motions were denied.63

The Affirmative Action Program that was eventually approved provided promotions for members of minority groups much faster than for women. By defining parity for minorities as their proportion of the county population—which was relatively low—rather than their proportion of the largely minority cannery labor force, the canners could achieve compliance fairly quickly. By 1978, fifty of sixty-four plants participating in the Conciliation Agreement of the suit had achieved their goals for hiring minority males in all of the high-paying jobs (Bracket III and above), and thirty-six had hired enough minorities as mechanics.

The Department of Labor estimated that to gain proportional representation for women, more than half of all promotions would have to be given to females (U.S. Department of Labor 1978). When the María Alaniz suit was filed (in 1973), a pilot-training program had been established, which would provide the necessary training to women and minorities. An evaluation of the pilot-training program showed that only 35 percent of promotions went to women. By 1978 only one plant had achieved the goal for hiring women in high-bracket jobs, and four plants had hired enough women in the mechanics’ jobs. There were no separate parity goals set for minority women (Cannery Industry Affirmative Action Trust 1979:2). Since these data are for the northern California canning industry as a whole, it is impossible to figure out how many women in Santa Clara Valley canneries were affected by the Affirmative Action Program, probably very few. In addition, the overwhelming majority of back-pay claims were eventually denied because of insufficient evidence.

While this litigation was pending, the Teamsters and United Farm Workers renewed their union jurisdictional conflict. After violent incidents in the fields, in which one farm worker was killed, the two unions negotiated a truce in 1977. They agreed that for the next five years cannery workers would remain under the jurisdiction of the Teamsters, whereas farm workers would be organized exclusively by the United Farm Workers. Some cannery workers felt betrayed by this agreement, for it left them in a union that they believed did not meet their needs as workers.

After the truce opened, the dissident Cannery Workers Committee decided to continue its organizing activities and also to infiltrate the Teamsters from within. Despite the changes ordered by the race-and sex-discrimination suit, they believed that the Teamsters were unsatisfactory.

Tony Di Vencenzo believed that the problems of workers were ignored by union officials: “We were very dissatisfied with the present union officials. … I was for a time shop steward and for the life of me couldn’t get anything done. There’s no employee representation—it’s all ‘big-wig.’ ” Antonio Ramírez considered the grievance process “a big laugh”:

If you have a minor thing, like they owe you an hour, then you have a very good chance of getting it. But if you have a case where you are going to take records and witnesses, you might as well forget it. Unless you yourself are the witness and produce the records, then you have a good chance. The union does not go out there and investigate; they will not find you the information you need to fight that grievance.

Workers were especially infuriated with the “special assessments” taken from paychecks without their prior knowledge or authorization. Yet the basic problem, as a number of workers perceived it, was the continued lack of representation of cannery workers. Connie Garcia summed up this view:

Teamsters have never really been responsive to cannery workers.Sure they negotiate contracts, and the best they do is get us a little raise. But they never really fight to give us the things that we really need: representation. If we had representation, we wouldn’t have to go to all this hassle. Look at me; I’m an unpaid shop stewardess because I am bilingual. People can’t relate to them…. The biggest problem we’ve got in the industry is the union just does not stand behind the worker.

The discontent of cannery workers was part of a wider growing militancy by rank-and-file Teamsters. Various dissident caucuses and organizations were formed—such as Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) and The Professional Driver’s Council (PROD)—that sought to change the Teamsters from within. Teamsters for a Democratic Union’s Bill of Rights included: “Democratic by-laws, direct elections of officers, a fighting grievance procedure, preservation of good working conditions, safety and health, eight-hour day, five-day week, pensions, just salaries for officers, economic equality among Teamsters, and an end to discrimination. ”64 Chicano cannery workers were also dissatisfied with the Teamsters because union officials resisted reforms such as translating the contracts into Spanish for the largely Chicano labor force or holding bilingual union meetings. Furthermore, some Chicano dissidents intimated that Teamsters were controlled by “the Mafia,” and Teamster officials claimed that members of the Cannery Workers Committee were “radicals. ”

In 1978 the Cannery Workers Committee ran a multiethnic slate, including one woman, for Teamster union office. The slate had the simple slogan: “Vote for a Change.” The incumbent secretary-treasurer (the position with real power) was college educated, and this added to the perception that he could not understand their problems as workers. The Cannery Workers Committee (CWC) sought to replace him with a Chicano worker who would provide leadership regarding the needs of all workers. The CWC also sought translations of the union contract, bilingual meetings, an end to “special assessments,” better health and safety at the plants, worker input into contract negotiation, and the education of cannery workers regarding their contractual rights and grievance procedures.65 The Cannery Workers Committee provided basic education on how to vote, since this was the first timé that many cannery workers were present for peak-season union elections. This was also the first time the Teamsters had to campaign actively for votes. The Teamsters’ candidates sought out the largely Mexican and Chicano labor force by including some highly visible Spanish-speaking candidates on their slate and using the local Spanish radio stations and print media to get out their election message of “Experience and Leadership.’ The CWC won six out of the ten positions they sought, a victory that symbolized their potential strength to change the Teamsters union.

By September 1978, with funds from the Catholic church’s Campaign for Human Development, these efforts at union democracy were given institutional support with the opening of the Cannery Workers Service Center in San Jose. The center offered bilingual classes in shop-steward training, produced a newsletter, and provided legal counseling and referrals to social services. This service center in many ways was modeled on the Farm Workers Service Center established by the United Farm Workers. It won the battle to get the union to provide contracts in Spanish, after a two-year effort. In essence, the Cannery Workers Service Center functioned as a “shadow union’’ (Brown 1981:247), providing the services and advocacy that the Cannery Workers Committee believed the Teamsters union should have provided.

Conclusion

This overview of the canning industry illustrates the specific mechanisms that contributed to occupational segregation by sex and race. Initially, engendered job skills and employer preferences for male or female workers to perform sex-typed jobs created distinctions among the work force. Jobs that were considered fit for a particular gender became labeled as “women’s” or “men’s’’ work. As labor demands grew, immigrants and members of racial groups were incorporated into the labor force. In the case of Chinese men, a labor shortage led to their substitution for women, indicating that there was nothing inherent in processing that made it “women’s work.’’ Yet women’s work was always paid lower wages than men’s work and was clearly for women, not men. Thus the production process included a division of labor by sex, in which women, especially immigrant and minority women, were employed in temporary, “casual” jobs. As canning production mechanized, the distinctions between Women’s and men’s work widened. Men had access to full-time jobs and had possibilities for promotions. Women, on the other hand, who were excluded from men’s jobs, had virtually no prospects for job mobility. The nature of canning production created two internal labor markets, the mechanized men’s jobs and the temporary, manual Women’s jobs. The higher wages for men’s work indicated that men were seen as primary workers—wage earners who supported families—whereas Women’s lower wages and seasonal work reflected the view that women had primarily responsibility in the home.

The various unionizing attempts aimed to increase Women’s wages and better their conditions of work. But workers’ organizations generally supported the view that women had different needs than male workers and needed special protection. The first Collective Bargaining Agreement institutionalized distinctions between “Women’s” and “men’s” jobs and supported wage differentials.

Mechanization of women’s jobs beginning in the 1930s meant that the work processes became similar for men and women. Women began moving into positions as machine operators. With mechanization, the percentage share of women in the cannery labor force also began to decline.

Unionization by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters meant that workers’ attempts to resist changes in company policy was largely confined to negotiation between the union and management. Yet the Teamsters union was not an advocate for the largely female, minority cannery labor force. Teamster policies on mechanization, the practices of maintaining wage differentials and distinctions between “regular” and “seasonal” workers, and the lack of concern for the interests of women and Spanish-speaking workers all contributed to the concentration of women, especially Mexican-American women, in low-paying cannery jobs. With further mechanization, only high-seniority workers were able to retain their jobs. The female labor force, mainly long-term seasonal workers, became a largely middle-aged labor force, with few new, young workers entering the canneries.

Chicano workers responded by attempting to change occupational segregation and Teamster policies through litigation. Despite the Affirmative Action Program and victories toward union democracy, Women’s access to full-time cannery jobs was severely restricted by the overall loss of cannery jobs due to mechanization.

The organization of production and actions by employers and union officials were not the only forces contributing to occupational segregation. The women themselves had a hand in limiting their labor-market participation to the cannery labor force.


1. My periodization is a modification of Martin Brown’s (1981) framework.

2. In the twentieth century some canneries have required the women workers to wear uniforms.

3. Between 1890 and 1910 children made-up about 5 percent of the cannery labor force (Philips 1980:85).

4. For a full discussion of the causes and impact of cannery mechanization in the nineteenth century, see Brown and Philips 1983a.

5. One canner was compelled to use a drawn revolver, and later the machines were smashed (Brown and Philips 1983a: 14).

6. Between 1910 and 1920 output from California canneries grew at two to three times the rate of the real gross national product. By 1926 more than 10 percent of California’s industrial workers were employed in canneries (Brown and Philips 1983b: 8–9).

7. For example, V. V. Greco packed the first tomato paste in the West in 1916 (Claus 1966).

8. U.S. Immigration Commission, 1908, cited in Brown 1981:257.

9. U.S. Immigration Commission, Report: Immigrants in Industry, 1911, cited in Ruiz 1982:38.

10. Oral-history interview with Elizabeth Nicholas conducted by Ann Baxandall Krooth and Jaclyn Greenberg (1978:14).

11. Interview with Carmen Escobar conducted by Vicki Ruiz on 11 February 1979, cited in Ruiz 1982:39.

12. One of my informants had cored tomatoes at a large cannery in 1956, when this task was still done by hand. Her forewoman, however, allowed the workers to rotate so that each woman had a chance to work at the front of the line.

13. This commission regulated the piece-rate for women until 1937, when piece- rates were regulated by the more stringent Collective Bargaining Agreement (Brown 1981:142).

14. The regulation of the workday was particularly important since some canners would lock workers inside the plants so they would have to work long hours (Smith 1949, cited in Cardellino 1984).

15. The Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) later provided wage rates for overtime work. See Brown 1981.

16. CAWIU had the support of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), which was attempting unionization of nonwaterfront warehouses in the Bay Area. ILA leader Harry Bridges was viewed as a Communist and disliked by the American Federation of Labor leadership. See Rose 1972:70–71.

17. CAWIU made overtures to the United Farmers League and other organizations of small and midsized farmers. See the CAWIU Resolutions 1934.

18. Ruiz claims that the lack of organization on the part of CAWIU was a factor in the breakup of the strike (1982:94).

19. For example, 79 percent of the 1933 labor disputes were under CAWIU’s leadership. See Ruiz 1982:94.

20. According to the President Donald Henderson, the demise of CAWIU was caused by its isolation from the rest of the trade union movement, in particular the American Federation of Labor’s prior hostility, along with the vigilantism against it. Henderson believed that by organizing only cannery workers, CAWIU would have been a more stable organization (1936, cited in Ruiz 1982:97).

21. In Sunnyvale and Mountain View (about fifteen and twenty miles, respectively, to the west of San Jose), there were also large groups of Spanish immigrants, as well as Yugoslavians, in the cannery labor force (Krooth and Greenberg 1978; Robles 1978). According to my informants, Italians and Portuguese dominated Hayward’s large plants thirty miles north.

22. Governor Young’s Mexican Fact-Finding Committee, Mexicans in California, 1930, cited in Ruiz 1982:63.

23. Mike Elorduy, secretary-treasurer of the Teamster California State Council of Cannery and Food Processing Unions, interviewed by Martin Brown, 19 December 1978.

24. San Jose Mercury Herald, 9 July 1933.

25. It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that the automated-line production reached maturity in preparation tasks and was linked up with the automated line in the cookroom. When this happened, most of women’s hand labor was eliminated from the production process in canneries. See Brown and Philips 1983b:ll.

26. Federal locals are individual union locals with charters issued directly from the national office of the American Federation of Labor but administered by the State Federation of Labor. See Brown 1978.

27. According to Mike Elorduy, the craft-oriented American Federation of Labor was “not structured to take in industrial unions,” and that is why the AFL organized “federal” locals. Oral-history interview conducted by Martin Brown, 19 December 1978, p. 3.

28. Oral-history interview with J. Paul St. Sure conducted by Corrine Gilb (1957:142).

29. It wasn’t until a 1944 ruling by the National War Labor Board that the processing season workday was reduced to eight hours for men and women, and provisions were made for overtime pay after eight hours of work. By 1962 most canners had switched to hourly wages and three eight-hour shifts, which enabled them to run the expensive machinery all day and cut down on fatigue-induced accidents (Brown 1981:63–65).

30. Paul Pinsky, “Economic Material on California Canning Industry” California CIO Council, 1946, cited in Brown (1981:64). This was testimony given before the National War Labor Board, which regulated wages and working conditions in canneries during World War II.

31. In the official union pledge members promised “never to discriminate against a fellow worker” and to “defend on all occasions … the members of UCAPAWA” (Ruiz 1982:133).

32. The Wagner Act passed in 1935 had guaranteed industrial workers the right to join the labor union of their choice and instituted the NLRB to supervise and certify fair elections as well as regulate working conditions and employer practices. See Ruiz 1982:115.

33. Data for 1940 are not available, and the data for 1950 are for the “Spanish- surname” population. Hernandez, Estrada, and Alvirez (1973) have discussed problems of census undercounting and changing of definitions of Hispanics.

34. There were some Mexican braceros who worked in the canneries and later became permanent residents.

35. The threat came in a statement made by Dave Beck, leader of the Western Teamsters. See Ruiz 1982:207.

36. At the 1944 national convention, UCAPAWA had changed its name to the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union of America (FTA-CIO) to acknowledge the CIO tobacco workers locals that joined the union. There was no change in leadership, structure, or philosophy (Ruiz 1982:144). The FTA had been successful in organizing southern California cannery workers, in particular the Cal Can Strike of 1939. See Ruiz 1982:chap. 6.

37. At this time the FTA was undergoing severe internal conflict, and it was expelled from the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1950 for alleged “Communist domination” (Ruiz 1982:135, chap. 8).

38. For example, Del Monte’s profits nearly tripled before 1947 (Cardellino 1984:91).

39. There were other technical improvements, such as storage methods, which extended the canning season.

40. The Census of Manufacturers changed its definition of the California canning industry (SIC code 203) over time: 1939—canned and dried fruits and vegetables (including soups); 1947—canning, preserving, and freezing; 1954, 1958, and 1963— canned and frozen foods; 1967—canned, cured, and frozen food; 1972—canned and preserved fruits and vegetables. See U.S. Bureau of Census 1939–72.

41. In part this was because of the formation of cannery cooperatives in the 1950s, which were owned by growers to can their own produce and were protected from antitrust concerns.

42. Eric Thor has analyzed national data. More recent data are difficult to obtain, since so many canneries are part of cooperatives (in which profits are calculated differently) or are integrated in multinational firms (Thor 1982:15).

43. In response, canners are producing low-salt and lightly sugared products.

44. Del Monte (which had already diversified into shipping, canning production in Europe, and other enterprises) was purchased by tobacco conglomerate R. J. Reynolds in 1979, and Libby’s was acquired by Nestle Co. in 1978.

45. In 1976 there were nine wage brackets, with Bracket V (the lowest) being $4.53 an hour and Bracket IA (the highest) being $7.52 an hour (California Processors, Inc., et al. 1976:49).

46. Howard Winklevoss (1978) found that about half as many seasonal workers as regulars were expected to receive a retirement benefit, and then the amount was far lower than that of retirees who were regular workers.

47. Between 1964 and 1973, only 4 percent of the seasonal labor force made regular status (Winklevoss 1978).

48. “Trial Brief of Intervenors,” Coria, García, et al., María Alaniz et al., Plaintiffs, vs. Tillie Lewis Foods, et al., Defendants, and Related Cases, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, 9 February 1976, p. 4. This document (in my possession) is a legal brief that contested the Conciliation Agreement and provided the rationale for the objections raised by a group of workers who intervened in the race- and sex-discrimination suit. The clause in question was sec. IX, art. G, of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (California Processors, Inc., et al., 1976).

49. The International Longshore Workers’ Union provides retraining and large severance pay when workers are displaced. See Mills and Wellman (forthcoming).

50. These statistics, obtained through a discovery motion by the plaintiffs in Alaniz vs. California Processors, Inc., include information on sixty-seven canneries in northern California. They are at best conservative figures because the question under litigation was the companies’ discrimination against women and minorities. The figures include production workers only, and the percentages are based on my calculations.

51. In the whole industry, women made up about 50 percent of the peak labor force in 1970 (Brown 1981:118).

52. See an interview with the former International president Dave Beck by Donald Garnel, 11 September 1960, cited in Garnel 1972:188.

53. The Teamsters State Council of Cannery and Food Processing Workers is made up of several locals, which negotiate the industrywide contract. It is part of the Western Conference of Teamsters, an affiliation of caucuses representing specific industries, which meet periodically to strategize. See Garnel 1972:169–200.

54. “Trial Brief of Intervenors,” 9 February 1976, p. 58.

55. “Trial Brief of Intervenors,” Coria, García, et al., 9 February 1976, p. 13.

56. This strategy has been called creating a “parallel central labor union.” See Lynd 1979.

57. See the By-Laws and Rules of Orders, 1973:11.

58. The 1964 Civil Rights Act, a 1971 court ruling that struck down the twenty- five-pound weight limit for women (Rosenberg vs. Southern Pacific, 1971), and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act (1972) provided the legal basis for challenging discrimination.

59. A high proportion of Brown’s cannery worker respondants had parents who were permanently employed as farm laborers (1981:19).

60. The goal for promotions to mechanics was distinguished from other high-paying jobs because it was a skilled position that required special training. The Conciliation Agreement specified that Women’should receive 20 percent of the mechanics jobs, and minorities should receive a percentage that equaled their proportion of the county population.

61. Actually, this estimate was the “Spanish-origin” population in Santa Clara County—a category that includes greater numbers of people than does the “Mexican- origin” category and was based on 1970 data (U.S. Bureau of Census 1973). So although the cannery labor force was made up of mainly Mexican-American workers, any person of Spanish origin was considered as representing the class of discriminated workers.

62. Conciliation and Settlement Agreement, 19 February 1975.

63. There were a number of other objections with the Conciliation Agreement. See “Trial Brief of Intervenors, ” 9 February 1976.

64. See The Fifth Wheel (newspaper), 4 October 1977.

65. These issues were the subject of leaflets distributed by the Cannery Workers Committee during the local election campaign in summer of 1978, a campaign that I coordinated.

Additional Information

ISBN
9781501720055
Related ISBN
9780801494109
MARC Record
OCLC
1031872406
Pages
30-71
Launched on MUSE
2018-02-01
Language
English
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-ND
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.