Family affair: San Francisco's Hume family is building a right-wing empire�on dried garlic and squeezed workers

By David Bacon and Bill Berkowitz


Editor's note: The following article on the strike at the Basic Vegetable Products plant in King City, California was originally published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian (11/10-16/99). It was written in collaboration with David Bacon, longtime labor reporter and photojournalist (, and DataCenter's Impact Research Team.

KING CITY, CA (12/05/99) -- 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 people mostly work in the fields, or in the huge Basic Vegetable Products plant, drying garlic and onions to be shipped all over the world.

It's been harvest season since June, but for the last four months the movement of vegetables through the 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. 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.

This strike, like the many strikes that have embroiled California's canneries, packing sheds and food processing plants over the last two decades, 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 to pay the costs that the company has incurred in breaking the 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 conservative infrastructure of think tanks, policy institutes and foundations that perpetuate the right-wing revolution of the 1990s. Today, Hume's son Jerry 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 King City conflict began when the union's contract expired last summer. In bargaining for a new one, workers, represented by Local 890 of the Teamsters Union, asked for annual 2 percent wage increases in the next three years and no cuts in existing benefits.  The company's counterproposal included 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, which are 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," striker Jose Medico says.  "Many of them wouldn't be able to handle it if they had to go back onto the line at their age."

Once workers rejected the offer and struck the plant July 7, company demands escalated. Basic Vegetable proposed eliminating the union pension plan completely, replacing it with a 30 cents-an-hour contribution to a 401(k) savings account. It also proposed keeping the hourly wages of newly hired workers $3 below those already in the workforce and charging them $180 a month for health care.

But the final straw for the workers was when the company proposed that strikers pay an additional $20 a month for their medical care until the company's strike-related costs were repaid. When the union filed unfair bargaining charges with the National Labor Relations Board, the last demand was withdrawn, but the rest still stand.

Strikers say Basic Vegetable is trying to recoup money it sunk into failed plants in Spain and Mexico in the early 1990s. "Instead of accepting their losses, now they want us to pay the bill," striker Saul Venegas says.

Basic Vegetable spokesperson Jay Jory, of the Fresno-based law firm Jory, Peterson, Watkins and Smith, says the King City plant had been performing poorly. He cited a study by the Bain Group, that, he said, "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, Jory said, and there needed to be "a belt tightening throughout the company."

At the beginning of the strike the company immediately began hiring strikebreakers, bussing them in from other rural towns and stashing them at motels in King City and nearby Soledad. 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.

The strikebreakers have become a source of violence and increased confrontations.  One striking worker, who asked that his name not be used, told us about an incident he witnessed August 18. He said a car full of strikers followed a bus carrying strikebreakers back to the small town of Avenal, 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 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...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," read a statement issued by Local 890.

Attempts to contact the contractor, who was named in the statement, through Basic Vegetable were referred to Jory. 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. history. 

While strikers sit in the dusty street in front of the plant, Jerry Hume seems unconcerned.  When we asked Jory 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."

Hume is 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 agendas, 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. Lehrman was a young retired entrepreneur who made his fortune building the Rite-Aid drugstore empire and then spent part of it on a failed bid run to become Governor of New York.

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 as an appointee to the California State Board of Education by Gov. Pete Wilson. During his Senate confirmation hearings he was criticized for passing out copies of Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray's notorious book The Bell Curve, which tries to put a scientific spin on racist eugenics. 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 what it calls "economic literacy," and 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." 

But 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 at least $250,000 to the California Republican Party since 1995; $25,000 to support Proposition 209, the anti-affirmation action initiative; $200,000 to the antiunion Proposition 226; and $50,000 to Proposition 227, which banned bilingual education in California public schools. They've also given six-figure sums to Republican candidates, including Gov. Pete Wilson, would-be state school chief Gloria Matta Tuchman, and the Republican National State Elections Committee.

This year Hume also gave at least $1,000 to Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), cosponsor of two Senate bills that 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 toward reestablishing the old "bracero" contract labor program, which allowed farm owners to hold immigrant farmworkers as virtual indentured servants during 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 raising money for Republicans, the union in King City is escalating its campaign. Basic Vegetable counts among its clients a number of 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, in a move designed to make the company's actions a political issue in San Francisco, hundreds of strikers surrounded the Transamerica pyramid on Montgomery Street, where the corporation has its headquarters.

Workers hold a candlelight vigil and prayer service outside the plant every Friday night. And on November 14, hundreds of strikers and supporters from several Salinas Valley communities held a rally at the plant.  

The vegetable season is drawing to a close in King City, and it appears the strike may last at least until next year's season. So far only 25 of the 750 strikers have returned to work.

"If we lose the strike here, 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."

David Bacon is a photographer, long-time labor reporter,
and an associate editor for Pacific News Service.

 Bill Berkowitz is the editor of CultureWatch , a monthly publication tracking the Religious Right and related conservative movements, published by Oakland's DataCenter. Subscriptions are $35 a year. Contact him via phone: 510-835-4692, ext. 308, or by e-mail: For a free sample copy, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to: CultureWatch, 1904 Franklin St., Suite 900, Oakland, CA 94612.

Online Journal Home Bush Special Reports Media Church & State Racism CNP Kangas

Copyright © 1998-2001 Online Journal. All rights reserved.