Government / Politics

San Benito Foods employees protest in front of Hollister City Hall

Company is negotiating with the city on water fees related to tomato cannery waste.
Valenzuela leads a short march during the July 14 protest. Photo by Noe Magaña.
Valenzuela leads a short march during the July 14 protest. Photo by Noe Magaña.
Photo by Noe Magaña.
Photo by Noe Magaña.

San Benito Foods employees staged a protest on July 14 demanding the city of Hollister continue to provide water to the tomato cannery for its upcoming season, which starts in about a week. 

About 35 people attended the 45-minute gathering in front of City Hall, led by Teamsters Local Union No. 890 representative Jorge Valenzuela. During the protest, he said without a new agreement, San Benito Foods will only be provided water until mid-July. The season ends in November. 

With a megaphone in hand, Valenzuela gave a speech in English and Spanish in which he said the city increased its water permit fee from $27,000 to $4.5 million after it was fined by the California State Water Resources Control Board. He told BenitoLink the city of Hollister and the water board settled the fine in 2016.

He told the protesters that Hollister’s actions might cause them to lose 600 year-round employees, including some who have worked over 40 years at the cannery. He also said multiple generations within families have depended on San Benito Foods for employment. 

Valenzuela told BenitoLink that San Benito Foods heavily invested in repairing the area where the roof collapsed last year in order to keep jobs in San Benito County. San Benito Foods is owned by Neil Jones Food Company based in Vancouver, Washington.

Among the protesters was 64-year-old Agustin Sosa, a 32-year San Benito Foods employee. The Watsonville resident told BenitoLink it was important for him to keep his job because he would have difficulty finding another one. 

“Ojala que dejen la caneria para que sigamos trabajando por aquí,” Sosa said. “Mucha gente depende de ese trabajo.” (Hopefully they allow the cannery to stay and we keep working here. Many people depend on this job.)

Maria Cortez joined Valenzuela in addressing the crowd during the protest and said she was there to support the workers. 

No nos están corriendo pero en pocas palabras es una forma como los están presionando para que se vayan,” Cortez said. (They are not kicking us out but in a few words, it’s a way they are pressuring them to leave.)

Following some speeches and chants of “Si se puede” and “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos” (We are here and we won’t leave), Valenzuela led the demonstration from City Hall to the Granada Theater across the street.

 

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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.