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CT owner sells Stella D’oro brand

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The union workers at Stella D’oro went on strike. They marched. They sang. They appealed to teachers and nurses, congressmen and borough presidents. They won a National Labor Relations Board case.

In the end, none of that was enough to rescue Stella D’oro from its Connecticut-based owner. On Tuesday, September 8, Brynwood Partners announced the sale of the legendary cookie brand to Lance, Inc.

Reportedly, Lance will shift production to Ohio, leaving the Stella D’oro factory in Kingsbridge empty and the union workers heartbroken. Brynwood will retain ownership of the factory.

“It’s bad news,” said Vincenzo Carolvillano, a Stella D’oro foreman and Italian immigrant who started at the factory in 1973. “It’s sad. We worked 35 years at Stella D’oro. We did our best. It was our factory, and now it goes away.”

Brynwood bought Stella D’oro in 2006. When the union workers’ contract expired in 2008, the Connecticut-based owner proposed a wage and benefits cut; Carolvillano stood to lose a week of vacation and other benefits.

The union workers, more than 130 members of BCTGM Local 50, spent eleven months on strike. Brynwood needed to cut costs to keep Stella D’oro profitable, a press release stated. The union workers earn $18 to $23 an hour.

In June, a National Labor Relations Board judge found Stella D’oro ownership guilty of bad-faith negotiations and ordered it to reinstate the union workers. Ownership appealed, then announced its intention to sell Stella D’oro and shutter the Kingsbridge factory.

“Stella D’oro is saddened by the fact that many loyal Bronx-based employees and their families have been adversely affected by this decision,” a Brynwood press release read. “But feels that the company, due to the union’s unwillingness to compromise during the negotiations process that began in May 2008, was left with no viable alternative.”

BCTGM hoped to find its own buyer for Stella D’oro, one prepared to keep production in the Bronx. Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. condemned the sale to Lance.

“Stella D’oro has been a big part of the Bronx for a very long time,” he said. “We deeply lament the decision of its new owners to move out of our great borough and feel sorry for the loss of numerous jobs.”

Brynwood bought Stella D’oro at a discount for $15 million; it sold the cookie brand for an as yet undisclosed sum. Brynwood will meet with BCTGM Local 50 soon. Diaz Jr. plans to discuss with Brynwood the fate of the Kingsbridge factory.

“The union is upset,” said BCTGM Local 50 business agent Calvin Williams. “It hurts to see that a company can do this and walk away. We put in so much effort.”

In January, Carolvillano abandoned the picket line to undergo heart surgery. The father of two planned to return to Stella D’oro in January 2010. No longer.

“I need a job,” Carolvillano said. “But I have a heart condition. I never had English school. I only know labor. Who’s going to hire me?”

No union workers will follow the brand to Ohio, said Carolvillano. When he and the others went on strike, scab workers baked the Stella D’oro cookies.

“To me, [the cookies] were garbage,” Carolvillano said. “Stella D’oro will never taste the same.”

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