Thanks to @in_struggle for alerting me to the video.
I was really amazed and humbled to read about this local union in the Bronx and their fight against Brynwood Partners owners of Stella D’oro and the cookie factory on W 237th Street and Broadway.
But far from cowed by the odds they face, after seven months on the picket line, the Stella D’oro strikers have mounted an energetic campaign that has been boosted by outside support. In the process, they have emerged as representatives of a larger struggle escalating between labor and management as the economy continues to spiral downward.
“[Business owners] are going to start to use the recession to take back wages and benefits, so I think people should resist,” Filippou says. As he sees it, the Stella D’oro strikers “are making the beginning for other people to start resisting.”
Imagine. They have been on strike for seven months. At one point they had a 24 hour picket line set up. Lastly, what is truly amazing is their refusal to not have their union divided into two camps as Brynwood Partners was aiming to have happen.
As a workers’ representative to the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers (BCTGM) International Union Local 50, Mike Filippou had already been through two sets of contract negotiations when he and other union officials sat down with representatives from Brynwood in late May 2008 to negotiate a new contract for the Stella D’oro workers. He expected the meeting to follow the model of past negotiations: “You give me this, I give you that.”
Instead, Fillipou says, “as soon as they get to the table, the company gives the union reps a big presentation about how bad the company is doing, how many millions they are losing. I was ready to cry.”
A lawyer from Brynwood then rolled out a proposal that divided the Stella D’oro workforce into two camps, the skilled and the non-skilled. Among the skilled the company counted the factory’s mechanics, electricians, foremen and mixers. Among the non-skilled were the sanitation workers and cookie packers, who comprise more than 60 percent of the workforce. While the wages of the skilled would remain intact, from the salary of the so-called non-skilled, Brynwood wanted to subtract one dollar from the hourly wage each year for the next five years. Under this plan, workers who earned $37,000 in 2007 would see their annual income drop to $27,000 by 2012 (how much would the salaries of Brynwood Partners executives and their lawyers drop I wonder).
This cutback was really reaching!
Brynwood’s other proposals, which extended to the entire Stella D’oro workforce, included the elimination of overtime pay and all sick days, plus the loss of one week of vacation and four holiday days. Brynwood also wanted employees to pay for 20 percent of the cost of a company healthcare plan, whereas before the employees had paid nothing for health benefits.
Moreover, says Joyce Alston, Local 50 president, Brynwood rewrote “anything [in the contract] that gave members a sense of protection,” including work rules and conditions of employment. “They would have a grievance procedure but it wouldn’t be effective because the contract was saying that the company could change your schedule, change your job at will,” a condition that would leave the workers at the mercy of management. “You give that contract, you give your union,” Filippou says.
Another major problem here is that Brynwood Partners also did not want to easily cough up the financials so that the union could look at the data for themselves. I mean you’re asking these workers to basically give up everything. Either the Stella D’oro factory is in dire straits or you’re trying to use the recession to forgo regular management/labor give and take to gut the union.
According to Alston, the union requested a copy of Brynwood’s financial records for an accountant to review in order to verify the company’s claims. She says that Brynwood denied union reps a copy, informing them that they could access the financial records only at company headquarters, in Greenwich, Conn., where they would be allowed to sit and take notes.
Brynwood Partners has hired scabs to replace the striking workers. At this point in time who can eat Stella D’oro cookies in good conscience? As a side note it is interesting to see that the Wikipedia entry makes full reference to the strike and casts a rightly deserved negative light on Brynwood Partners.