BY JOE SHAHEELI/ The sudden action by Fresh Del Monte Products, Inc.Â to sever its contract with the International Longshoremenâ€™s Association Local 1291 and pull its incoming ships to a â€œbelow union wageâ€ pier in Gloucester City hasnâ€™t come as a surprise to the unions and terminal operators familiar with the operations of the Holt family.
The Holts, whose affiliation with the ports of Philadelphia and South Jersey spans over four decades, have made it obvious they seek to control all the major shipping terminals servicing the Ports of Philadelphia and Camden.
One of their trademarks has been their continued efforts to reduce union involvement on the piers. The latest outburst came over Labor Day weekend, when hundreds of members of ILA Local 1291 staged a protest againstÂ Fresh Del Monte Products., Inc., one of the worldâ€™s largest food brands, by dumping dozens of Del Monte pineapples into the Delaware River at Pennâ€™s Landing near the conclusion of Philadelphiaâ€™s annual Labor Day Parade.
The union was demonstrating over the international food conglomerateâ€™s plans to terminate its 20-year relationship with Local 1291 and instead employ unskilled â€œscabâ€ labor associated with an unrecognized union, Dockworkers Local 1 at the New Jersey dock. Over 200 family-sustaining ILA jobs will be lost according to Local 1291 Business Manager Boise Butler.
He said, â€œFor 20 years, ILA Local 1291 has enjoyed a good working relationship with Del Monte. Now, virtually out of nowhere, they informed us that they plan to end our agreement as of Oct. 1, 2010. What makes their betrayal even worse is our International Union met Del Monteâ€™s demand for $6 million in contract concessions, yet it is apparent this wasnâ€™t enough. They turned around and dumped us anyway. Thatâ€™s why we are urging the public to boycott all Del Monte products.”
Fresh Del Monte markets fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and fresh produce under the Del Monte brand. It is not related to Del Monte Foods Co., which markets a wide variety of canned and processed foods also under the “Del Monte” brand.
â€œThe public needs to be aware,â€ Butler continued. â€œDel Monte is saying theyâ€™re simply giving the business to another union, when, in reality, Dock Workers Local 1 is a sham union. They pay their unqualified workers slave wages and little or no benefits.â€
Butler noted, â€œThe Teamsters, with whom this rogue group was initially associated, has since severed ties with them. Itâ€™s a union-busting scam. Del Monte is trying a similar union-busting tactic in other large US ports.â€
As a â€œcall to actionâ€ to invite public support of its efforts, ILA Local 1291 is launching a new website â€“ www.dumpdelmonte.com â€“ where the public can learn more about the issue.
The Gloucester Terminal is operated by the Holts, who provide office space to Local 1. Reduced wages make it more profitable for the terminal operator and those shipping lines using that facility.
Del Monte is obviously seeking low-wage employees. It is already advertising on Craigâ€™s List offering supervisory jobs at its facility in Gloucester, N.J. for salaries ranging from a low-low $8.50 an hour, going up to $10. This is more than a reduction by half of legitimate union wages.
It has added a â€œmustâ€ stipulation to its help-wanted listing. Potential â€œemployees must be bilingual,â€ the other language understood to be Spanish. The ad reports, â€œHours are from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. but must be flexible â€¦ with the employee willing to work overtime.â€ Union officials suspect many hired will be â€œillegalsâ€.
The Holt family has been the beneficiary of strong public funding since it was awarded a sweetheart contract to run Packer Terminal, presently the cityâ€™s busiest and largest. It was negotiated and signed into existence by the administration of the late Gov. Bob Casey, Sr.
Since then, it has benefitted from the efforts of the Commonwealth and a State agency, the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, both of which are committed to insuring the Port here remains the Commonwealthâ€™s â€œgateway to the worldâ€.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have gone into refurbishing the piers owned and managed by PRPA, which several years ago spent over $15 million to purchase two panamax cranes to enable Packer Terminal to speed the loading and unloading of huge container ships.
The dredging now underway has brought about an increase in shipping lines eyeing and discussing contracts with the PRPA to bring more ships here. Benefiting again is the Holt family.
The Holt family, through one of its many corporations, recently wrote to PRPA Executive Director James T. McDermott it wished to acquire Tioga Terminal, which is efficiently operated as a total union facility by Delaware River Stevedores.
Several years back, the Holts, using their long-term relationship with Gov. Ed Rendell, attempted to take over Tioga Pier, popularly known as the â€œFruit Pierâ€ since it docks two or more ships weekly laden with Chilean fruit during the winter season.
After strong union and public opposition, the Governor approved the renewal of DRSâ€™s lease.
The Holts continue to be seen as an anti-organized-labor force in the port by the ILA and other unions. This is confirmed, they report, by its continued support of non-union gangs in Philadelphia and especially so on the New Jersey side.
The Holts proposed to Gov. Jon Corzine they be given control of port operations in Camden, Salem, and Paulsboro, replacing the South Jersey Port Corp.
Martin Mascuilli, secretary-treasurer of Local 1291, charged, â€œLocal 1 was set up by the Holts in 1993 at the Gloucester Terminal, which sits on a 124-acre site.â€
Mascuilli said, â€œThey brought in scabs and put hundreds of people out of work. It is not good business to give somebody that much power.â€
The Holt family, which employs about 1,000 people on both sides of the river, has a lock on key piers on the New Jersey side of the river and operates the Packer Avenue Terminal in South Philadelphia, which presently is this cityâ€™s largest.
The South Jersey Port Corp. owns about 300 acres of prime real estate in Camden which is coveted for upscale waterfront housing, recreation and marine services.
That port corporation employs about 140 direct workers, though it generates thousands of jobs for shippers, longshoremen and truckers.
Thomas J. Holt, Sr. staked his claim in Gloucester City in 1967 when he bought half the site of the former New York Shipbuilding Co. The State bought the rest, across the border in Camden, and turned it over to South Jersey Port Corp.
With a heavy infusion of public money from New Jersey and the Feds, Holt expanded the half-mile waterfront property into one of the larger refrigerated and dry-warehouse facilities on the East Coast.
The family hopes to expand operations on either side of Packer Avenue as that terminal has benefitted from PRPA efforts to increase demand from international trade. It has made known it wants to be the key player in the new Southport Terminal, which has been carved from river frontage along the former Naval Base in South Philadelphia.
In August, Tom Holt, Jr., wrote PRPA stating Packer is under severe capacity restraints and requesting assistance in looking for additional alternative acreage. Outside of Southport, which is at least five years away from being developed for terminal use, the only terminal suitable immediately would be Tioga.
Sailing wasnâ€™t always smooth for the Holts. When the now-defunct Holt Group filed for bankruptcy in 2001, it reported annual revenues over $300 million and more than $350 million in debt.
The Holts lost ownership of the Gloucester Terminal in bankruptcy, along with holdings in Puerto Rico and Wilmington, Del. It bought the Gloucester Terminal back from bondholders and its corporate headquarters has a 99-year lease on a former Coast Guard building.
The ILA understands total Holt control over the Terminals in the Ports of Philadelphia and South Jersey will lead to the eventual disenfranchisement of legitimate port-related unions.
Philadelphia was declared a military strategic port by the Defense Dept. after much lobbing by its unions and political leadership. After that designation, the ILA developed training programs for its rank and file so they could easily and without delay load and unload military cargoes of all descriptions.
Boise Butler, whose union is among the largest along the River, said, â€œUnionism provides well-trained longshoremen and women while guaranteeing wages well above the slave rates now being proposed by Del Monte.â€
The ILA hopes the public will join them in a boycott of Del Monte products. Its label is seen on fresh and canned fruits and includes a number of top-selling pet foods, including Meow Mix, Milk-Bone, Kibbles â€™n Bits, Gravy Train, Natureâ€™s Recipe and Pup-Peroni.