Left: Fish House Boss Angel Uclaray in 1989. Katherine Ringsmuth private collection. Middle: Cannery Workers feed the Iron Butchering Machine while a machinist looks on ca. 1940s. The Heinbockel-Payne family collection. Right: Cannery workers called “slimers” surround the NN Cannery Fish House Slime Line while fish house workers observe the Iron Butchering Machine in 1989. Katherine Ringsmuth private collection.
"Decapitated salmon dance the chained conveyer through a circle of knives. Spinning, twisting, and pirouetting blades, guts, fins and entrails shear away. Carcasses tumble to the cutting table."
— Robert Francis Flor, “The Fish House,” Alaskero Memories
In the early 1920s, young Filipino men began arriving on the West Coast looking for work. These young men pursued cannery jobs in Alaska to pay for higher education and were called ‘Alaskeros.’ The Great Depression disrupted the Alaskeros’ academic aspirations. Many took seasonal jobs working farms in central California and salmon canneries in Alaska.
The economic crisis of the 1930s also sparked unionization. But because maritime unions at the time required year-round membership, Filipino workers who worked seasonally were precluded from joining. In response, Filipino labor leaders formed the Cannery Worker and Farm Laborers Union (CWFLU) local 18257 to represent workers who canned salmon in Alaska in the summer and worked in the fields of California during the winter.
Although experiencing numerous iterations, the cannery union shaped the workscape and played an important role in the nation’s labor history. By the end of the 20th century, Filipino cannery workers continued to return to California, where they lived and worked in places such as Delano and Stockton.
Filipinos continue to dominate the labor pool that supports Alaska’s salmon industry.
"I knew from all of them before, who they were, and I felt that the farmworkers’ history was being told when they went to Alaska."
— Oscar Peñaranda, writer, historian, and former cannery worker