When Brynwood Partners in 2006 took over the Stella D’oro factory in the Bronx, the Wall Street private equity firm had every reason to believe it would be easy to slash the wages, pensions, holidays and sick pay of the 136 bakery workers.
But the takeover brainos forgot one important fact: The workers are represented by a union, Local 50 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM). And throughout their more than nine-month strike, the workers have been strongly supported by their union brothers and sisters and by members of the community as they walk the picket line every day outside the plant where Brynwood now employs strikebreakers.
The saga of Stella is part of an all-too-familiar story of what has become our American Dream—a Dream deflated, bust and broken by unfettered corporate greed. Originally a family-owned firm, Stella was acquired by RJR Nabisco, then taken over by Kraft when RJR Nabisco broke up (in the wake of the disastrous KKR leveraged buyout). Stella was run into the ground by its corporate overseers, then dumped to private equity earlier this decade when Kraft began to dispose of "non-core" assets under pressure from Wall Street.
Generations of New Yorkers grew up with and loved Stella D’oro cookies, once an iconic, national, premium Italian-style biscuit brand.
Vicky has 28 years on the job baking those cookies. She began work at Stella D’oro at age 20. Now she has no paycheck coming in nor any health benefits. Vicky and her co-workers walk the strike lines at West 237th and Broadway every day, defying corporate chieftains who, after the union contract expired July 31, 2008, demanded reduced wages, four fewer paid holidays and workers shell out an additional $1.32 per hour for health insurance.
Imagine the equity guys having to sweat over $1.32 an hour. If only.
Every day is another hardship for the workers on the picket line. A month into the strike, they already were talking among themselves about their fading American Dream. This from the Riverdale Press:
On Sept. 11, nearly a month since the 24-hour picket outside of the Kingsbridge factory began, striking workers sat on lawn chairs underneath their usual blue tarp and an American flag.
It was a day fraught with symbolism, as workers struggled to make sense of the stark contrast between the patriotism they felt on the anniversary of that tragic day and the American dream they say is slipping away from them.
The bakery workers have been joined on the picket lines by nurses, staff at the City University of New York, textile workers and many others, with New York State Teachers Union recently presenting the workers with $2,500 for their strike fund. The workers have taken their struggle to the luxurious offices of Brynwood Partners in Greenwich, Conn., and to the home of Brynwood Partners and Stella D’oro Chairman Hendrik Hartong III, son of Henk Hartong Jr., former Pittston coal CEO and Brynwood founder.
If you’re in New York, stop by the picket lines or take part in a rally and march this Saturday, May 30. The group is assembling at noon at the Target on West 225 Street, one block east of #1 Station and will march to Stella D’oro factory at 237 Street/Broadway.
Either way, you can take action to support the striking workers by sending an e-mail to Henk Hartong and Brynwood Partners at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell them to go back to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair agreement to preserve the living standards of their loyal employees.
Solidarity is what has enabled the workers to withstand these long months without pay or health care. Solidarity is what will enable them to win.