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Stress at Stella D’oro

Vincenzo Carolvillano misses the work. He misses the pals. He misses the paychecks. Most of all, Carolvillano misses the Stella D’oro smell.

“Vanilla and sugar,” he murmured. “You bring it home. You bring it to the supermarket, the bank. People ask you what you do. I’m a baker.”

Carolvillano, of Pelham Bay, is a baker no more. He went on strike ten months ago, when factory owner Brynwood Partners proposed a wage and benefits cut. Brynwod bought Stella D’oro in 2006. The Connecticut firm proposed a new labor contract in 2008; Carolvillano stood to lose a week of vacation and other benefits. Brynwood is a private equity firm. According to labor advocates, it adheres to a ruthless game plan: buy a distressed business – cut wages and benefits – sell at a profit.

“There was no negotiation, no discussion,” Carolvillano said. “No respect. We earned those benefits. We worked at Stella D’oro for so many years.”

Carolvillano hails from Torella del Sannio in southern Italy. He left the boot for the Bronx in 1973 and found work at Stella D’oro. When the 1973 Oil Crisis hit, Carolvillano lost his job. He spent six months as a dishwasher, then returned to Stella D’oro.

“It was tough,” Carolvillano said. “Tough but good. We had passion and were proud of the work.”

Carolvillano started as a packer. He became a machine operator, then a mixer and finally a foreman; 1989 was a banner year for Stella D’oro. Tragedy struck when Marc Zambetti, son of factory owner Felice Zambetti, perished in an earthquake. Zambetti sold to Nabisco, Nabisco to Kraft, Kraft to Brynwood.

“[Stella D’oro] started to change,” Carolvillano said.

The strike battered Carolvillano, a Pilgrim Avenue resident. In January, he noticed pain in his shoulder and arm.

“I thought it was rheumatism,” Carolvillano said. “I thought it was the picket line, the cold. I spent 35 years in the factory.”

One night, Carolvillano stepped outside to shovel snow and nearly collapsed. A hospital test showed heart trouble. He underwent coronary bypass surgery on February 2.

“It was stress,” Carolvillano said.

Carolvillano’s health insurance will max out in July. He collects unemployment; it isn’t enough. When Carolvillano is stronger, he’ll look for a new job.

“My wife never worked,” he said. “Now she has to.”

Daughter Antonella attends St. Theresa School. She has given up gymnastics, softball and cheerleading; her father can’t afford to pay. Antonella was supposed to visit Stella D’oro for the first time in 2008. She and her father are disappointed.

“I miss the smell,” Antonella said. “My dad doesn’t smell like cookies anymore.”

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