Stella D’Oro, owned by the vulture private equity company Brynwood Partners, closed its Bronx, N.Y., biscuit plant and fired 136 workers. Management refused to pay the full amount of severance and other benefits to the workers although their union contract spells it out explicitly. Many of the workers have over 30 years of service.
After the workers had spent a full day baking cookies on Oct. 8, the boss called them in at 3 p.m. and said in so many words, “That’s it—you’re out.” For 15 minutes the workers chanted inside the plant, “The workers united will never be defeated!”
After cleaning out their lockers, groups of workers emerged from the plant to a crowd that cheered them for their heroic long struggle. Some went straight home, but many stayed right in front of the plant with supporters. Periodically chants would erupt.
The workers were sad, but also angry and defiant—and they showed it. The very next day at a rally at the plant more than 50 workers attended, vowing to continue their fight for their benefits.
Brynwood only succeeded in closing the plant because the capitalist government is complicit in ignoring its consistent violations. Months earlier, the National Labor Relations Board issued an order to the company “to bargain in good faith” and “make whole the unit employees [recompense] for any loss of earnings and other benefits suffered as a result of unlawful unilateral implementation.” (nlrb.gov)
This NLRB decision followed a bitter 11-month-long strike of Local 50 of the Bakery Workers union, overwhelmingly composed of Latinas and Latinos. According to its own rules, the NLRB could have issued an injunction against the sale and closing of the plant.
Brynwood has always admitted it has no interest in running a bakery. Its management brags how they buy a company, suck the blood of the workers and the company’s assets, and then sell it. Giant investors such as Goldman Sachs profit from this too. It’s the workers and community that lose.
According to Local 50 President Joyce Alston, Brynwood even turned down four offers to sell the plant to companies that wanted to keep it operating in the Bronx.
This company and many others get huge tax abatements from New York City. These abatements are voted on not by the City Council or residents but by boards the mayor and governor appoint—boards usually dominated by investment bankers and real estate developers. Brynwood got millions in tax abatements under the Industrial and Commercial Tax Abatement Program for new machinery in the Stella D’Oro plant.
Queens City Council member Tony Avela called a City Hall press conference to pressure billionaire Brynwood supporter Mayor Michael Bloomberg to demand that the money be repaid and that the machinery be seized by the city.
Jose Rivera, state assemblyperson from the Bronx, charged, “Frankel comes from Morgan Stanley. He was appointed by you. He’s got the power, Michael Bloomberg. Keep that in mind. We’re not going to let those machines from the Bronx go anywhere. We are going to put up a human chain.”
Local 50 President Joyce Alston said of her members, “They have shown the courage that has awakened the labor movement.” In all of her 30 years of union experience, she said, she had never seen the kind of arrogance displayed by Brynwood in their negotiations.
Stella D’Oro workers, the presidents and officials of nine unions, the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition and other coalitions involved in mass struggles addressed the press conference.
Faye Kellerman of Local 375 said, “Thank you so much to the workers of Stella D’Oro. You set our path. It’s never ever too late. A hurt to one is a hurt to all of us. When we fight, we win. What a shame. Taking food out of folks’ mouths for how long? And then when they came back, ‘We’re moving’?
“What a shame. And then they’re going to steal my equipment on top of that. What a shame! When we fight, we win! Who’s got the power?” The crowd shouted in unison, “We got the power.” “What kind of power?” Again the crowd responded, “Workers’ power!”
After the last speaker, the news came in—the plant was closing. City Council member Avela angrily said, “How disgraceful it is that Mike Bloomberg and the city of New York are allowing this to happen without showing even the littlest concern for the workers. The mayor of the city of New York has a fiduciary responsibility to protect city property. We bought those machines. We have to call upon Mike Bloomberg to stop this now. Shame on him if he doesn’t do it immediately.”
The crowd responded with chants of “Shame! Shame!”
Worker spokesperson and strike leader Mike Filippou called upon everyone to go directly to the Stella D’Oro factory at 237th Street and Broadway to stand in solidarity with the workers when the doors were locked down.
At the rally on Oct. 9 one thing was very clear: these workers are not ending the struggle until every penny that’s owed them is paid. “Whose machinery? Our machinery!” rang out again and again. The machinery, which belongs to these workers and the community, has been sold to the new company, Lance Foods, to be shipped to Ohio.
Juan Thillet, a Stella D’Oro worker, said at the rally, “This is not over. They think they won but they have made enemies out of us and we will go on to fight here and for workers everywhere in this country.”
Eilenfeldt is the NYSUT AFL-CIO Cooper Union delegate to the New York City Central Labor Council and a member of the Bail Out the People Movement.