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Teamsters win two-year strike at Basic Vegetable

by REBECCA WESTON | August 31, 2001 | Page 15

KING CITY, Calif.--After two long years, 750 International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 890 members are celebrating an amazing victory in their fight for a new contract at Basic Vegetable.

Basic Vegetable is a large producer of dehydrated onion, garlic and potato products. In the face of relentless union-busting attacks, the largely Latino workforce remained solid, and in the process, galvanized strong support from local residents.

Strikers won the right to return to work, an 8 percent wage increase over two years and protections against cuts in their seniority rights, health and welfare benefits, pensions and severance pay.

The fight began in July 1999 when arch-Republican William Hume, heir to an agricultural production dynasty, refused to negotiate a new contract with Local 890.

Founder of the right-wing lobbying group, Citizens for America--which backed several local anti-immigration and tough-on-crime measures--Hume tried to use the contract fight to break the union.

"The company has seven other plants, and I think they're using us to teach them a lesson," union organizer Fritz Conle said at the time. "They don't ever want to see a strike at any of their facilities again."

In response to Hume's demand for a wage freeze, a two-tier wage scale, subcontracting rights, the reduction of full-time hours and an eroded pension plan, workers went on strike.

Management intimidated strikers, suspended several workers on trumped-up charges and hired more than 100 strikebreakers who attacked strikers and a union staff member. Then Hume initiated a union decertification vote, taking advantage of an anti-union law that prevents striking workers from taking part in decertification elections after one year.

Refusing to back down, union members maintained the picket line and launched a massive community fight, which included candlelight vigils, window-poster campaigns throughout King City and a national boycott of Basic Vegetables.

Reaching out to students, hospital workers and prison employees, strikers toured California and convinced institutions to discontinue their orders of Basic Vegetable products.

After agonizing debate, the union voted to send nearly half of the membership back into the plant when Hume filed for the decertification election. As a result, Local 890 defeated Hume's decertification attempt and boosted the confidence of striking workers outside the plant.

Local 890's victory proves that a united membership and community support can beat back even the most vicious bosses.

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