Workers maintain Stella D’oro line through heavy rain

Elizabeth Francisco of Fordham spent seven years at Stella D’oro before going on strike. The mother of two is struggling to make do without her regular paycheck from the cookie factory. Photo by Daniel Beekman

It rained on Thursday, June 18, cold and heavy. Elizabeth Francisco and Roberto Lopez shivered. Ghanshyam Amin and Thanh La souhgt refuge under the Kingsbridge el.

It rained in August, when Francisco, Lopez, Amin, La and other Stella D’oro factory workers formed a picket line on Broadway. It rained in September, October, November, December…The strike has hardened Francisco, a Fordham Road resident who left the Dominican Republic 17 years ago. Francisco won’t send her six-year old to Catholic School as planned. She’s out of work, so her daughter will stay at P.S. 9.

“It’s hard,” Francisco said. “When my daughter asks, ‘Mommy, I want to eat dinner outside,’ I have no money. Out here [on the picket line], I’m depressed.”

Curiously, the strike has softened Francisco, too. It has softened Lopez, Ghanshyan and La. There was precious time for chitchat among workers at the cookie factory, let alone serious conversation. On the picket line…

“We have time to talk,” Francisco said. “We’re a family now.”

Joseph Kresivich, an Italian immigrant, opened Stella D’oro in 1932. An Italian contingent remains. Thanh La is Vietnamese; he fought beside American troops in South Vietnam. Amin commutes to the cookie factory from Sunnyside, Queens.

“We’re friends,” Francisco said. “The other workers – they tell me that I’m a good human. There is no race.”

Francisco went on strike ten months ago, when factory owner Brynwood Partners proposed a wage and benefits cut. Brynwood bought Stella D’oro in 2006. The Connecticut firm proposed a new labor contract in 2008; Francisco stood to lose vacation time and paid sick leave. Brynwood is a private equity firm. According to labor advocates, it adheres to a ruthless game plan: buy a distressed business – cut wages and benefits – sell at a profit. Soon after the Stella D’oro workers went on strike, Brynwood hired temporary workers.

“I see the scabs at lunch,” Francisco said. “I would never be a scab.”

The National Labor Relations Board has filed a complaint against Brynwood; a judge will rule on the Stella D’oro strike soon. He or she could order Brynwood to shed its temporary workers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed a mediator to settle the dispute in early 2009; the mediator failed.

Francisco is angry at the scabs, but she understands.

“I need to work, they need to work,” she said.

On June 18 at 11 a.m., the Stella D’oro picket line consisted of La and Amin, wet and sleepy under the el. BCTGM Local 50 enjoys the support of nurses and teachers in New York and California. La is disheartened, nonetheless.

“The scabs work for nothing,” he said. “No holidays. No benefits. This is what it is to be a worker in America today.”

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