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Stella D’oro workers get the boot after sale

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Sandrino Franco knew the day would come. In September, when Brynwood Partners announced plans to sell the Stella D’oro brand and shut down its legendary Bronx cookie factory, Franco began to prepare for the end. But on Thursday, October 8, when Brynwood asked Franco, 56, to get out and stay out, he let his head hang. The Morris Park resident has worked at Stella D’oro for 28 years.

“We knew it would happen,” Franco said. “It still feels sad.”

Franco spent the afternoon of October 8 outside the factory on Broadway, where he and more than 130 union workers picketed from August 2008 to July 2009. The union workers, members of BCTGM Local 50, went on strike when Brynwood, the owner of Stella D’oro since 2006, proposed a wage and benefits cut.

In July, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) judge ordered Brynwood to reinstate the union workers and boot its scabs. The Connecticut based firm did so but sold the Stella D’oro brand to snack food firm Lance, Inc. in September. Lance plans to shift Stella D’oro production from the Bronx to Ohio.

BCTGM has contemplated a second NLRB appeal. Before Brynwood sold the brand to Lance, BCTGM found three firms willing to keep production in the Bronx. But Brynwood refused to consider other offers, union worker Oscar Hernandez said.

“[Brynwood] gave up on us,” Hernandez said. “We didn’t give up on Stella D’oro.”

Hernandez and the rest staged a noisy exit on October 8, chanting, “The workers, united, will never be defeated.” Until Lance ships Stella D’oro machines from the Bronx to Ohio, there’s hope for BCTGM Local 50. Bronx pols and union bosses gathered on the steps of City Hall on October 8 to protest the shift. The city has granted former Stella D’oro owner Kraft Foods and Brynwood tax breaks to retool Stella D’oro machines.

“Brynwood has sold equipment paid for by taxpayers,” Assemblyman Jose Rivera said. “Stella D’oro was the pride of Italians in the Bronx. To see it end is heartbreak­ing.”

Brynwood bought Stella D’oro for $17 million and sold the brand for an undisclosed sum. Brynwood released a statement on Friday, October. It blamed BCTGM Local 50 for the shut down. Brynwood lost money on Stella D’oro in 2006 and 2007; it needed a wage and benefits cut to turn the business around, the statement read.

The Stella D’oro union workers earned $18 to $23 an hour plus ten weeks of paid leave. BCTGM refused to negotiate and forced Brynwood to execute a regrettable sale, said the statement.

On October 8, BCTGM Local 50 president Joyce Alston warned union workers not to cash severance checks from Brynwood. Workers who cash the checks will lose additional pension and health benefits that Brynwood has refused to pay, Alston said. She thinks the union and Brynwood will return to court.

Union worker George Kahssay of Van Cortlandt Park plans has a resume ready. Kahssay plays keyboard and is confident he’ll find a new job. Hernandez has no resume, though; the battle against Brynwood has kept him busy. Union worker Tesfay Ghebremedhin of Van Cortlandt Park is furious.

“In capitalism there is work and money,” Ghebremedhin said. “There is no humanity.”

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CNG: Community Newspaper Group