Stella D’oro Bronx factory’s future uncertain

Stella D’oro has announced plans to close its legendary Kingsbridge cookie factory in October. BCTGM Local 50 will fight to keep it open. Photo by Victor Chu

The union workers at Stella D’oro nabbed a legal victory on Tuesday, June 30 when National Labor Relations Board judge Steven Davis found ownership guilty of bad-faith negotiations. The workers – who went on strike eleven months ago – are baking and mixing at Stella D’oro again. In order to stay, they may need a second legal victory. Ownership has threatened to shutter the Kingsbridge cookie factory in October.

Brynwood Partners, a Connecticut-based private equity firm, bought Stella D’oro from Kraft Foods in 2006. When the workers’ contract with Stella D’oro expired in 2008, ownership introduced wage and benefit cuts. The Stella D’oro workers – members of BCTGM Local 50 – earn $18 to $23 an hour and nine weeks annual paid leave. Ownership argued that cuts were needed to keep the factory profitable. The workers argued that they’d earned the wages and benefits. In August, 134 workers walked out. Teachers and nurses helped stage a handful of demonstrations but it took an NLRB decision to budge ownership. Stella D’oro refused to give the union a copy of its audited financial statement, Davis ruled. Ownership also declared an impasse without the workers’ consent.

Stella D’oro will appeal the NLRB decision. Ownership did eventually supply a union accountant with some financial information. The workers’ refused to negotiate, according to a Stella D’oro statement. The union may file a second NLRB claim to block Stella D’oro from shuttering the factory, Local 50 lawyer Louie Nikolaidis said. Ownership plans to shift production elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Nikolaidis and BCTGM president Joyce Alston are hunting for a Stella D’oro buyer. Brynwood bought the cookie factory at a discount for $15 million. Stella D’oro and the workers will restart negotiations. Ownership wants to negotiate the factory’s closing. The workers want to negotiate a long-term contract, Alston said. If Stella D’oro is allowed to dodge the NRLB decision, other firms will follow suit.

“We intend to fight,” said Alston. “We intend to keep the factory open.”

There may not be enough time to file and resolve a second NRLB claim ahead of October, so Local 50 may seek injunctive relief; it may ask a federal judge to stop Stella D’oro from shuttering the factory. Vincenzo Carovillano didn’t return to work on Tuesday, July 7. The Pelham Bay resident, who joined Stella D’oro in 1973, is recovering from heart surgery.

“I think [the factory] is going to be sold,” he said.

If there is no buyer, Alston and Nikolaidis hope to secure public money to help the workers purchase the factory.

“It is unfortunate that Brynwood would move so quickly to close…simply because a labor dispute did not go its way,” Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said. “My office will do everything it can to keep Stella D’oro in Kingsbridge.”

U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel echoed Diaz Jr.

“The NLRB made the right ruling in ordering Stella D’oro to reinstate the workers,” Engel said.

So did Councilman Oliver Koppell.

“It is extremely regrettable that Brynwood has been completely hostile to any negotiations and has now apparently decided to shut down the factory,” Koppell said. “I will try to work with the borough president, the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation and the union to find another buyer for the company.”

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