UPDATED: Chilean port strike over...again - The Packer

UPDATED: Chilean port strike over...again

01/29/2014 12:10:00 PM
Andy Nelson

An on-again, off-again strike at Chile’s Port of San Antonio is off again.

If the strike really is over, it ended without significantly affecting fresh fruit exports to the U.S., importers say.

Workers were back on the job Jan. 29 following a deal made late Jan. 28, according to media reports confirmed by the Santiago-based Chilean Fresh Fruit Exporters Association (ASOEX).

Workers will not strike again until at least May 1, under terms of the deal, according to reports.

It’s the latest development in a wild few days at the port.

Initially, workers went back to work Jan. 26 after 22 days on strike. But on Jan. 27, they began striking again, claiming that a port employer established new conditions for employment at the port, according to reports.

Workers had been striking over retroactive pay for lunch breaks. The strike ended when port operators agreed to a lump sum payment for lunch breaks workers hadn’t been compensated for since 2005.

But when an employer announced it was offering 100 positions and potentially 150 more, union leaders said that was unacceptable, according to reports.

Unions said they wanted the same working conditions that existed before the strike began.

The strike’s effects on fresh fruit exports to North America appear to be minimal, importers said.

Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group has been able to “zig and zag” around logistical problems related to the strike, said Bill Poulos, category director for imported grapes.

As a result, Oppy’s Chilean grape imports had not been affected through Jan. 29.

“We’ve bee cognizant of it, but it hasn’t affected how we’ve set up our February promotions and how we’re able to market,” Poulos said.

The strike also didn’t limit Chilean grape imports for Capespan North America LLC, St. Laurent, Quebec, said Mark Greenberg, president and chief executive officer.

The strike also hasn’t reduced Chilean blueberry imports for Chicago-based Sun Belle Inc., said Janice Honigberg, president.

“Logistics were complex, but we were able to operate through it, work through other ports,” she said. “It hasn’t limited us.”

Container shipments to Europe have been more affected than bulk shipments to the U.S., Honigberg said.

While shipments this season haven’t been too adversely affected, Some U.S. importers believe the strike, coming less than a year after another one at a Chilean port, could hurt the image Chile is trying to cultivate of being business-friendly.

“Guarded optimism” is the phrase Poulos used to describe his attitude toward any long-lasting effect of Chile’s port strikes on business. But he said that anytime the industry makes headlines for the wrong reasons, it can influence people’s perceptions.

“No news is good news.”

Honigberg was hopeful that the strike’s resolution solved problems that have been simmering for a long time, holding out the promised of long-term stability.

But she said it was too soon to tell what affect the strike could have on Chile’s partners in other countries.

“We’re going to have to see how customers, particularly retailers, react — in the U.S. and worldwide.”



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