Building a rightwing empire on dried garlic and a busted union

KDean75206 at SPAMaol.com KDean75206 at SPAMaol.com
Wed Nov 17 21:57:12 MST 1999



This article describes the tough battle of the predominantly Latino
workforce at Basic Vegetable in King City, California. They are going up
against a company owned by a family that has substantially supported the
recent rash of rightwing initiatives in the state.
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SAN FRANCISCO'S HUME FAMILY -- BUILDING A RIGHTWING EMPIRE ON DRIED
GARLIC
AND A BUSTED UNION
By David Bacon and Bill Berkowitz

KING CITY, CA (11/8/99) -- King City is a tough agricultural town about
an
hour south of Salinas, at the high end of the long, thin valley that
bills
itself as the vegetable capital of the world. In King City, vegetables
are
king -- people mostly work in the fields picking them, or in the huge
Basic
Vegetable Products plant, drying garlic and onions for shipment all over
the
world.
It's been the height of the harvest season since June, but for the last
four
months, the movement of vegetables through the city and its plant has
slowed
to a trickle. Instead of running the production lines around the clock,
Basic Vegetable's 750 workers have been standing guard in the streets
outside. In front of the huge dryers, their picket lines are squeezing
the
plant's output to a fraction of its normal level, while life in this
workaday town has ground almost to a halt.

Like the many strikes that have embroiled California's canneries,
packing
sheds and food processing plants over the last two decades, this one is
not
driven by demands for vastly increased salaries and benefits. In fact,
the
single hottest demand has come from the company. Basic Vegetables has
called
for the workers and their union to pay the costs the company has
incurred in
breaking their strike.

The conflict in King City is driven as much by ideology as economics.
Company founder Jaquelin Hume, a stalwart of San Francisco's Republican
Party who died in 1991, helped create the highly-developed conservative
infrastructure of think tanks, policy institutes and foundations which
perpetuate the right-wing revolution of the 1990s. Today Hume's son
William
carries on the family's political legacy, providing the financial seed
money
for many of the state's most notorious right-wing "wedge" initiatives,
political campaigns and candidates.

The Hume family celebrates the free market. In 1983, with the
encouragement
of President Ronald Reagan and Attorney General Ed Meese, Hume founded
Citizens for America, a right-wing lobbying group which, according to
columnist Sidney Blumenthal, aimed at "organizing chapters in every
Congressional district in the land, bringing the message of the free
market
and the free world to the grass roots."

In King City, the Hume family's devotion to the free market is more than
an
abstract principle. "I have no question that the company wants to break
our
union," says Fritz Conle, organizer for Teamsters Local 890. "The
company
has seven other plants, and I think they're using us to teach them a
lesson.
They don't ever want to see a strike at any of their facilities again."

The King City conflict began when the union's contract expired last
summer.
In bargaining for a new one, workers asked for 2% wage increases in each
of
three years, and no cuts in existing benefits. But the company put
concessions on the table. It proposed cutting workers' hours from 8 to
7.5
per day, which would have substantially reduced the income of the
plant's
seasonal workers, who only work six months out of the year. Further,
Basic
Vegetable demanded the right to contract out 30 permanent year-round
jobs.
These are jobs for the most part held by workers who have used their
long
years of seniority to get off the production line.

"They're older folks, the mothers and aunts of many of us," says striker
Jose Medico. "Many of them wouldn't be able to handle it if they had to
go
back onto the line at their age."

Behind the demands for concessions, is a distinctly un-free market idea,
strikers allege. In the early 1990s, Basic Vegetable tried to expand
into
the world market, and built plants in Spain and Mexico. However, the
overseas ventures turned out to be big money-losers, and were eventually
shut down. "But instead of accepting their losses, now they want us to
pay
the bill," says striker Saul Venegas. Conle asserts that there's no
question
that the King City plant makes a healthy profit for The Basic Companies,
its
parent corporation.
Basic Vegetable spokesperson Jay Jory, of the Fresno-based law firm
Jory,
Peterson, Watkins and Smith disagreed with Conle, saying that the plant
had
not being doing very well financially. Jory cited a study by the Bain
Group
which, according to the company, "revealed...that BVP's major competitor
was
gaining market share and enjoyed a significant advantage in labor
costs."
The plant was facing a potential shut down, said Jory, and there needed
to
be "a belt tightening throughout the company...[to make the plant]more
productive and more efficient."

Once workers rejected the concessions and struck the plant on July 7,
company demands escalated. Basic Vegetable proposed eliminating the
union
pension plan completely, replacing it with a 30¢/hour contribution to a
401k
savings account. It proposed keeping the wages of newly-hired workers
$3/hour below those already in the workforce, and charging them
$180/month
for healthcare. The company wanted vastly increased subcontracting
rights,
and the ability to grant promotions to whoever they wanted, rather than
going by seniority. The final straw for the workers was when company
negotiators proposed that strikers pay an additional $20/month for their
medical care until the company's strike-related costs had been repaid.

When the union filed unfair bargaining charges with the National Labor
Relations Board, the last demand was withdrawn, but the rest still
stand.
At the beginning of the strike the company immediately began hiring
strikebreakers, stashing them at motels in King City and nearby Soledad,
and
even brought in busloads from other rural towns. Strikers claim that
local
jails have also been a source of recruits. At the end of September,
Basic
Vegetable announced it had permanently replaced its striking workers.
They
could return to work, the company said, but only to about 100 temporary
seasonal jobs. The rest, and best, of the jobs would now belong to
replacement workers.

Bringing in strikebreakers has been the source of violence and increased
confrontations. On August 18, a car full of strikers followed a bus
carrying
strikebreakers back to the small town of Avenal, on the Westside of the
Central Valley, over the mountains from King City. As strikers, leaflets
in
hand, sought to talk to workers getting off the bus to go home, they
were
instead confronted and beaten. One striker ran down the street, pursued
by
his adversaries. A local woman, taking her children home, passed by in
her
car and opened the door, urging him to take refuge inside. Her car
windows
were broken out as her children and grandchildren watched in terror.

"This attack was orchestrated by Pedro [Ayala], a labor contractor for
Basic
who, upon getting off the bus yelled that the company had given them the
'green light' to physically injure the strikers," said a statement
issued by
Local 890. Jory denies this version of events and claims that "Basic had
nothing to do with this incident," and that it was union supporters who
initiated the violence.

What Basic Vegetable is doing in King City is hauntingly familiar to
many
other Teamster Union locals in rural California. In 1983, Watsonville
Canning and Frozen Foods forced Local 912 into a 19-month strike over
similar concessions, which the union finally won. But subsequent strikes
were lost at the United Foods and Ganges Brothers processing plants in
the
late 1980s, and local Teamster unions broken. In 1994, Local 601 struck
over
concessions demanded by Diamond Walnut at its huge plant in Stockton.
The
strike continues today, making it one of the longest in U.S. labor
history.

While strikers sit in the dusty street in front of the plant, William
"Jerry" Hume seems unconcerned. When asked if he thought Hume should
step in
and try to help settle the strike, Jory said that would be unnecessary
since
there is already a negotiating team in place. Instead, on October 30,
Hume
co-chaired a lavish banquet at the Ritz-Carlton hotel given by San
Francisco's conservative Pacific Research Institute, whose keynote
speaker
was Lady Margaret Thatcher, hailed by PRI as the "progenitor of
Britain's
privatization movement."

Jerry Hume is only following in his father's political footsteps. In
1933,
Jaquelin Hume and his brother Bill, established the Basic Companies,
which
became the world's largest processor of dehydrated onions and garlic.
Jack
Hume was part of a small coterie of conservative California businessmen
who
were longtime friends and financial backers of Ronald Reagan -
encouraging
his entry into public life, hiring his political consultants and
bankrolling
his 1966 gubernatorial campaign. He joined Justin Dart, the drugstore
tycoon; Holmes Tuttle, the automobile dealer; Earle Jorgensen, the steel
distributor and others in Reagan's unofficial "Kitchen Cabinet."

When Reagan backers needed an organization to lobby for their domestic
and
foreign policy agenda, they turned to Jack Hume, who founded Citizens
for
America (CFA) with Reagan's blessing in 1983. The story of Citizens for
America is a fascinating study of how, over the past two decades, the
conservative movement has been able to build strong well-funded
institutions
in a relatively short time, deploy them strategically, and jettison them
when they no longer were useful.

Hume had a vision - ensuring that the Reagan ideology would be sustained
well beyond the Reagan Presidency. He hired Lew Lehrman as chairman, a
young
retired entrepreneur, who made his fortune building the Rite-Aid
drugstore
empire and then spent part of it on a failed bid to unseat New York's
Governor Mario Cuomo.

In 1985, while Congress was debating aid to the Nicaraguan contras, CFA,
with Reagan's blessing, convened a conference in Angola of
counter-revolutionary terrorists from four countries, brought together
to
form the "Democratic International." Attendees included Jonas Savimbi,
head
of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (then
supported
by the CIA and South Africa's apartheid government); Adolfo Calero,
leader
of the 15,000-man Nicaraguan Democratic Force; Ghulam Wardak of the
Islamic
Unity of Afghanistan Mujahedeen; and Pa Kao Her of the Ethnics
Liberation
Organization of Laos.

At the time of the conference, the CIA had already given the Afghan
rebels
$250 million, and had funneled another $80 million to the Calero's
Nicaraguan contras. Savimbi's UNITA still wreaks havoc in Angola today,
although the CIA says it no longer funds the organization.

Continuing his father's conservative advocacy, William Hume has
championed
school vouchers and other privatization efforts. He was appointed to the
California State Board of Education by Gov. Pete Wilson. During his
Senate
confirmation hearings he was criticized for passing out copies of
Charles
Murray's notorious book, "The Bell Curve," which tries to put a
scientific
spin on racist eugenics and argues that whites have higher IQs than
African
Americans. He is currently Chairman of the board of the Center for
Education
Reform, which pushes school vouchers and charter schools. Since 1993
Hume
has served as a trustee of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

One of Hume's pet projects is the Foundation for Teaching Economics
(FTE),
founded by his father in 1975 "in response to his concern that many
young
people were not being taught the basic concepts of market economics."
FTE
promotes free-market principles by "helping economics teachers become
more
effective educators," and by "introduc[ing] young individuals, selected
for
their leadership potential, to an economic way of thinking about
national
and international issues."
However, funding right-wing causes is where Hume really shines.
According to
the Citizenship Project, a community-based organization founded by
Mexican
immigrants and unionists in Salinas, and DataCenter's ImpactResearch
Team,
Hume and his family have contributed heavily to dozens of right-wing
causes
and candidates, including:
* 1995 -- $100,000 to the California Republican Party;;
* April 1995 -- $25,000 from William's wife Patricia to Proposition 209,
California's anti-affirmation action initiative;
* 1996 -- $150,000 to the California Republican Party; $100,000 to the
Governor Pete Wilson Committee;
* April 1998 and May 1998 - two $100,000 contributions to Californian
for
Paycheck Protection (Proposition 226), the anti-union ballot initiative;
* 1998 -- $50,000 to the campaign for Proposition 227, the Ron
Unz-sponsored
initiative which banned bilingual education in California; and
* 1996-98 -- $105,000 to school voucher initiatives in Oregon, Colorado
and
Wisconsin, and $20,000 to Gloria Matta Tuchman, anti-bilingual education
and
pro-school voucher spokesperson, and candidate for California State
Superintendent of Schools. Hume gave an additional $100,000 to Tuchman
one
week before the November 1988 election.

In addition to these contributions, Hume gave the RNC/Republican
National
State Elections Committee over $165,000 in 1999, and donated $1,000 or
more
to the campaigns of George W. Bush and Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX). This year
Hume also gave at least $1000 to Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR). Smith is
co-sponsor of two Senate bills which would allow growers to bring
workers
into the country, and make their legal immigration status dependent on
their
jobs. This would be a big step towards reestablishing the old "bracero"
contract labor program, which held immigrant farmworkers as virtual
indentured servants through the 40s and 50s. A renewed "bracero" program
would reduce farmworker wages drastically, providing an enormous
financial
reward for the growers who supply the Basic Vegetable plant with its
garlic
and onions.

While Hume continues his political fundraising for Republicans, the
union in
King City is escalating its campaign. Basic Vegetable counts among its
clients a number corporations with high-profile consumer food products -
Kraft, Lipton, McDonalds, Church's Chicken, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Cisco,
Maizena and Nestle. The union intends to focus attention on their use of
products from the struck plant. On November 4, hundreds of strikers
surrounded the Transamerica pyramid on Montgomery St., where the
corporation
has its headquarters, in a move designed to make the company's actions a
political issue in San Francisco.

Workers hold a weekly candlelight vigil and prayer service every Friday
night from 11PM to midnight outside the plant. And on November 14,
strikers
and supporters from several Salinas Valley communities will be marching
from
the King City park, through downtown and out to the plant for a major
rally.
The vegetable season is drawing to a close in King City, and it appears
like
the strike may last at least until next year's season begins in May.
Thus
far, only 25 of the 750 strikers have returned to work. "If we lose the
strike, and the union too, the only other work here in King City is in
the
fields," explains striker Lupe Vasquez, who has worked at Basic
Vegetable
for 31 years. "That's where many of us started years ago, and we don't
want
to go back. With a secure, union job at Basic Vegetable, we've been able
to
settle down, buy homes, send our kids to college, and have a much better
life. That's why we're fighting so hard - we won't give that up."

-30-

David Bacon, photographer and associate editor for Pacific News Service,
is
a regular Bay Guardian contributor. Bill Berkowitz, edits CultureWatch,
a
monthly newsletter tracking the conservative movement, published by
Oakland's DataCenter (culturewatch at datacenter.org).
---------------------------------------------------------------
david bacon - labornet email david bacon
internet: dbacon at igc.apc.org 1631 channing way
phone: 510.549.0291 berkeley, ca 94703
---------------------------------------------------------------


National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR)
310-8th St., Ste. 307
Oakland, CA 94607
510.465.1984
510.465.1885 (fax)
Visit us at www.nnirr.org


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