Workers win Stella D’oro strike, but factory to close

Stella D’oro workers, on strike for eleven months, won a National Labor Relations Board case recently. Strike leader Mike Filippou (center, standing) and workers celebrated outside the W. 237 Street and Broadway bakery on Thursday, July 2. However, the cookie company plans to close its legendary Kingsbridge factory. Photo by Victor Ch

The stubborn confectionary workers who formed a picket line in Kingsbridge eleven months ago won a decisive victory on Tuesday, June 30 when a National Labor Relations Board judge ordered the Stella D’oro Biscuit Company to reinstate the workers and surrender back pay.

But Stella D’oro, owned by private equity firm Brynwood Partners since 2006, has announced plans to shut down the cookie factory in October. In a July 6 statement, Stella D’oro blasted union management – the workers on strike belong to Local 50 BCTGM – bid goodbye to a hundred scabs and promised to keep baking Stella D’oro cookies.

Union rep and Country Club resident Mike Filippou, who joined Stella D’oro in 1994, called the planned shut down a negotiating ploy and a terror tactic. If the factory is shuttered, Stella D’oro will outsource the operation, Filippou said. He and a hundred others returned to work on Tuesday, July 7. According to Filippou, the factory is a mess.

The trouble began in earnest a year ago, when the workers’ contract with Stella D’oro expired. The company introduced wage and budget cuts; Local 50 held firm. Stella D’oro workers earned $18 to $22 an hour plus nine weeks annual paid leave. They also received full pension and medical benefits.

Stella D’oro argued that the wage and benefit cuts were needed to guarantee a profit. Local 50 argued that it had earned the contract; workers secured raises year after sweaty year. On August 14, Filippou led 134 workers on strike. Not one crossed the picket line, he said. Teachers and nurses helped stage a handful of demonstrations and lent the strike national attention but it took an NLRB ruling to budge Stella D’oro.

Stella D’oro erred during negotiations when it refused to give Local 50 a copy of its audited financial statement, NLRB judge Steven Davis found. The company declared an impasse without cause and turned down Local 50 when it offered to return two months ago. Davis ordered Stella D’oro to pay the workers with interest going back to May.

Stella D’oro will appeal the NLRB ruling. It did allow a union accountant to inspect the financial statement and considers Davis’ decision “inconsistent in its factual analyses,” the statement said. If Stella D’oro loses an appeal, the NLRB could order it to reopen the factory.

“What the union leadership failed to grasp is that any business that cannot operate profitably must seek changes that will enable it to do so,” the statement said. “By refusing to compromise…the union leadership has ensured that the jobs [it was] trying to protect would eventually disappear from the Bronx forever.”

Filippou was on the picket line when he got the NLRB news. He sprinted to a deli on W. 238th Street to print the decision. When Filippou showed it around, the workers wept, hugged and cheered.

“We waited so long,” he said.

Bedford Park resident and Stella D’oro machine operator Celestino Juarez beamed.

“I worked at Stella D’oro for 22 years,” he said. “Then we went on strike. I thought about going back to Mexico. I was happy when we heard the news. I don’t love Brynwood, but I love the United States and Stella D’oro, too.”

Eddie Marrero of Kingsbridge hurled jeers at Stella D’oro executives on Friday, July 3. He worked at the factory for 30 years before joining the picket line. Marrero, Juarez and Filippou relied on unemployment checks during the strike.

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