Cannery Union Elects First Woman President in its History

Ron Chew October 15, 1982 0

The membership of Cannery Union Local 37, of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union has elected the first women president in the Union’s history with a vote which overwhelmingly went to reform slate candidates, Union officials announced last Friday.

Each of the reform candidates who ran on the Rank and File Committee platform coasted to easy victory, including Terri Mast, who defeated Emma Lawsin 391 votes to 135 for the President/Business Agent post. Mast, widow of slain local 37 reformer Silme Domingo, was one of the founding members of the Rank and File Committee, which for the past several years has pushed for greater accountability by Union officials to the membership and elimination of long-standing corrupt practices such as bribery in the dispatch procedures.

The Seattle-based union represents 1200 to 1500 workers at 16 Alaska canneries.

Domingo and Gene Viernes were murdered at the Union hall June 1, 1981. The turmoil that followed included a membership vote to oust Union President Constantine “Tony” Baruso after it was revealed that Baruso was the owner of the gun used as the murder weapon and other allegations surfaced that Baruso was involved in voting fraud and embezzlement of union funds. To date, Baruso has not yet been charged with any crime.

The other newly-elected officers are: Vice-President Leo Lorenzo; Secretary-Treasurer, David Della; Dispatcher Glenn Suson; Trustees Nemesio Domingo, Sr., Emma Catague and Bernardo Taclay; and Members At Large, Lynn Domingo, Angel Doniego and Myrna Bumlag.

Della, who defeated former Secretary/Treasurer Ponce Torres, pointed out that every single reform slate candidate won election. “This is a clear mandate from the membership to continue the reform work of the last five years of which Silme and Gene were an important part,” Della said.

Mast, elated over the margin of victory by Rank and File candidates, however, said that next year’s contract negotiations will be critical, as the industry looks at possibly doing away with the seasonal guarantee in wages, a component of all previous contracts negotiated since the inception of Local 37. “It’s going to take competent leadership not to become sold out,” she said, “We have to move off the petty squabbles and internal bickering and pull the membership behind us and take on the industry.”

Both Mast and Della said they will make efforts to organize more canneries and expand the membership. The union is supported by membership dues.

The union, Mast said, will also look at providing year-round employment and attempting to organize workers in the bottomfish and seafood processing areas. Della also pointed out that many canneries are moving to provide fresh, frozen fish which is package whole, much of which is shipped to Japan.

Della said efforts will be made to educate the membership about the purposes of a union and “clearly define our membership as part of a broader labor struggle on a national level.”

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