It appears that no one will rescue Stella D’oro, not even El Commandante. Brynwood Partners, the Connecticut-based firm that sold the Stella D’oro brand in September, has rebuffed offers for its legendary Kingsbridge cracker and cookie factory, among those a bid from the socialist president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.
In September, Stella D’oro union workers asked Chavez, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, to buy the factory and fund a Kingsbridge workers’ cooperative via Venezuelan-owned oil and gasoline giant CITGO. Chavez agreed.
The workers, who went on strike in August 2008 when Brynwood proposed a wage and benefits cut, were reinstated in July 2009 on orders from the National Labor Relations Board. But the September sale of the Stella D’oro brand to North Carolina-based Lance, Inc. and plans to shift production to Ohio rendered the workers, members of BCTGM Local 50, helpless again.
Chavez is no stranger to the Bronx; CITGO has donated oil for heat to poor residents of the borough since 2004. But Brynwood refused to answer Venezuelan phone calls and emails, Stella D’oro worker Mike Filippou reported Brynwood sent the workers home for good on Thursday, October 8.
Brynwood claims that BCTGM Local 50 demands sunk Stella D’oro. The union blames avaricious management.
On Thursday, October 29, former Stella D’oro workers and union leaders gathered outside the empty Kingsbridge factory to protest the sale and bash Mayor Michael Bloomberg, possibly for the last time. Bloomberg squared off against Democrat Bill Thompson on Tuesday, November 3.
“Shame on Bloomberg!” Filippou shouted. “We lost good jobs and he did nothing.”
The mayor did send a lawyer to mediate between BCTGM Local 50 and Brynwood in early 2009 but he failed.
“[The city lawyer] talked like he was a Brynwood lawyer,” Filippou said. “Plus he told us that he was an expert in worker’s comp[ensation], not contracts.”
Former Stella D’oro worker Jose Eufracio urged Kingsbridge residents to punish Bloomberg on Election Day. Eufracio has two children and has begun to collect unemployment; he turned down a bus driver job – only 20 hours a week and no benefits.
“We let Bloomberg get another term,” the Fordham resident said.
Filippou warned Kingsbridge residents to boycott Stella D’oro products and Balance nutrition bars; Brynwood has acquired The Balance Bar Company, he said. Brynwood still owes the workers pension and healthcare benefits, Bronx union leader Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez said.
Bx9 bus driver Katherine Lee, who honked in support of the protest, shook her head.
“I thought [the workers] would win,” Lee said. “It’s not fair.”
Kingsbridge resident Eddie Eimicke will miss the workers and Stella D’oro.
“Every Saturday morning I smelled them baking cookies,” Eimicke said.
©2009 Community News Group