August 12 Teamster Organizer Kidnapped and Beaten

August 12, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1955. 

That was the day Teamsters organizer, 28-year old William Grami was kidnapped and beaten. 

Grami had arrived in Sebastopol, California to help organize about 350 workers in local canneries, drying plants and fruit sheds.

The Teamsters had been on campaign footing for months, in an attempt to win union recognition, higher wages and benefits. 

They had lost a union representation election the previous fall, after Sebastapol Apple Growers moved quickly to lay off union supporters. 

By January, cannery workers at Oscar Hall and Sons voted for union representation, though workers at Barlow Company would vote against the union just two months later. 

But by early August, the strike wave hit. 

Workers walked off the job at the Sebastopol Cooperative Cannery. 

More at seven other area canneries joined them on strike in the days that followed. 

Grami would later testify that he had heard reports weeks earlier of a grower threatening to have him killed within three hours, should any strike actually take place.

During the strike that would ultimately prove victorious, three men kidnapped Grami outside the union hall. 

He was driven along a rural road, tied to a pole, gagged and beaten with a bicycle chain. 

Left for dead, he was found the next day and hospitalized immediately. 

But the union and the strikers remained undeterred. 

Before the strike was over, scab trucks attempting to haul apples to market were vandalized or burned, and scab drivers were beaten. 

Eight months later, the apple industry finally came to the negotiating table. 

By May 1956, area apple growers signed with the Teamsters.

 

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