Police intervene in Chilean port strike

01/15/2014 07:21:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Chilean Fresh Fruit AssociationPolice special forces entered a Chilean port where workers are striking Jan. 13.

Meanwhile, importers said Jan. 14 that fruit exports to North America have not been significantly affected by the strike, which began Jan. 3.

Chilean police took forceful action — including dispersing strikers with water cannons — to protect non-striking workers at Chile’s Port of San Antonio, according to media reports confirmed by Chilean fruit trade group ASOEX and U.S. importers.

Striking workers are seeking retroactive pay for half-hour lunch breaks.

As of the week of Jan. 13, U.S. importers said they’ve seen little effects of the strike on volumes.

Grapes were among the commodities that were arriving in North America with few hitches, said Mark Greenberg, president and chief executive officer of Capespan North America LLC, St. Laurent, Quebec.

“San Antonio handles containerized products. Table grapes for the U.S. are shipped in refrigerated bulk vessels and are loaded at different ports,” he said. “The early fruit from the north of Chile would load at Coquimbo. Later on, Valparaiso will handle grapes from the Aconcagua, Metropolitan and Central Valley as well as much of the stone fruit from Aconcagua and the Central Valley. My understanding is that these three ports are not affected.”

Grapes that are containerized for other markets could be affected, Greenberg said.

If the strike continues for another two or three weeks, volumes of stone fruit slated for the U.S. could be affected, but as of Jan. 14, shipments received by Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group didn’t seem to be lower because of the strike, said Evan Myers, the company’s director of South American imports.

“At this point it’s not affecting the flow too much,” Myers said.

John Pandol, special projects manager for Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, Calif., agreed that as of Jan. 14, effects of the strike on U.S. shipments had been minimal.

That could change, however, if the strike continues, Pandol said. And there was a danger of “sympathy strikes” at other Chilean ports.

In addition, Pandol said, another strike at a Chilean port isn’t great publicity, considering that Chile wants to be known as a business-friendly country.

“It doesn’t look great for the country when there’s a strike every eight months — over lunch.”



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