Del Monte leaves Camden, cuts pay

A top longshoremen's union official is threatening job actions and boycotts against Del Monte produce in East Coast ports after Del Monte moved 200 banana-ship unloading and warehouse jobs from its Camden terminal to the Holt family's lower-paying port operation in neighboring Gloucester City.

Stevedores, warehousemen and other workers at South Jersey Port Corp.-owned Pier 5 in South Camden earned wages starting at $24.50 an hour, plus benefits, moving Del Monte fruit as members of the International Longshoremens Assocation, Philadelphia-based ILA vice president James Paylor told me. He says the work's been moved to the Holt family's Pier 7 in neighboring Gloucester, where workers earn around $12 an hour and are members of an independent union. (A source close to Holt said wages are in the $16 to $18 range, and the workers have Teamsters benefits.)

"They're earning way below area standards," Paylor told me. "They are displacing family-sustaining jobs and replacing them with poverty jobs," reducing tax collections and boosting medical costs in South Jersey and Philadelphia. Without the Del Monte jobs, Paylor said his union will "be down to about 500 jobs" at dock labor manager Delaware River Stevedores, and the ILA's local pension plan will "be under pressure."

The move came after ILA had agreed to $5 million in concessions demanded by Del Monte, Paylor told me. "It's a crime," he said. "I've never experienced anything like this in my life," in 29 years as an ILA official covering ports up and down the East Coast.

Paylor said his union is reaching out to politicians, and government investigators, who he says should examine years of taxpayer-funded subsidies to Holt and other Delaware River port interests. He noted Del Monte is a profitable company, and acused it of "taking advantage of the situation of labor" in the slow economy.

Thomas Holt Jr. and Leo Holt, who run the Delaware River port operations built by their father, were in a meeting and unavailable for comment, according to their office. Del Monte spokeswoman Chrissy Stengel wasn't immediately available.