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Stella D’oro drama fuels cookie sale

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The union workers at Stella D’oro have filed another National Labor Relations Board complaint. The NYC Council has declared its support for the workers. Stella D’oro owner Brynwood Partners has condemned the union and Kingsbridge is awash in rumors. At any rate, it seems that Brynwood will cease to operate the historic Stella D’oro cookie factory. The Connecticut-based firm will sell and/or close the Kingsbridge plant in October, unless the union, BCTGM Local 50, surrenders. BCTGM Local 50 is unlikely to do so; it recently won a legal battle with Stella D’oro following a yearlong strike.

The trouble started when Stella D’oro management and union members met to negotiate a new contract in 2008. According to BCTGM Local 50, the cookie company demanded unreasonable wage and benefit cuts. According to Stella D’oro, the cuts were reasonable and necessary; it was losing money. Stella D’oro workers earn $18 to $23 an hour plus benefits, the union has stated. The wages and benefits total more than $35 an hour, Stella D’oro maintains. In June, a NLRB judge found Stella D’oro management guilty of bad-faith negotiation; the cookie company refused to give BCTGM Local 50 a copy of its audited financial statement. Brynwood is a predatory firm out to break the union and sell Stella D’oro at a profit, BCTGM Local 50 president Joyce Alston said. According to Alston, the cookie company has yet to disclose its finances.

She and Brynwood don’t see eye to eye. On Wednesday, July 22, Stella D’oro issued a statement to “set the record straight.” The company has invested $11 million in Kingsbridge and has lost $3 million since 2006. It did in fact grant the union access to an audited financial statement, Stella D’oro claimed.

“The facts show that the union’s pay scale at Stella D’oro is completely out of sync with the Bronx community and…economic reality,” the statement read. “Since negotiations began in May 2008, the union has consistently refused to engage in meaningful discussions.”

BCTGM Local 50 members returned to work in June but the easy-going Stella D’oro atmosphere is gone. Before, the workers enjoyed unparalleled stability; many started at the cookie company three decades ago. The picket line changed everything. Stella D’oro has retained a handful of temporary workers to replace union members who retired or found other work; the scabs and old-timers don’t get along.

“We workers are doing what we do best – baking and packaging Stella D’oro cookies,” Country Club resident and Stella D’oro worker Mike Fillippou said. “But we’re tired of not knowing whether or not the factory is going to close.”

Rumors that had Brynwood selling Stella D’oro to Lance, Inc., a North Carolina snack food company, led Stella D’oro union members to protest at Goldman Sachs headquarters in Manhattan. Goldman Sachs owns a stake in Lance. Stella D’oro has refused to comment on sale negotiations.

BCTGM International is looking for a buyer, too – one that will maintain wages and benefits, and keep Stella D’oro in the Bronx. On Wednesday, July 29, the City Council adopted a resolution sponsored by Councilman Oliver Koppell. The resolution supports BCTGM Local 50.

Although the Stella D’oro drama has garnered international attention, the end result is what matters to Fillippou. Now that he’s working again, the 44-year old machinist has enough money for medication and is able to send his daughter to gymnastics practice.

On Wednesday, July 15, Congressman Eliot Engel defended BCTGM Local 50 on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and asked the NRLB to keep Stella D’oro open in Kingsbridge.

“We have the momentum,” Fillippou said. “We won’t let up.”

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