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July 2011, Week 1

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Thu, 7 Jul 2011 01:58:25 -0400
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Stella D’Oro - Lessons Learned

July 1, 2011
By Alan Saly
http://www.laborpress.org/

The 11-month Stella D’oro strike – a heart breaker for the
New York labor movement -- gets a sympathetic, union
member-centered portrayal in the forthcoming HBO
Documentary, “No Contract, No Cookies,” to air on the
network later this month.

The documentary’s first screening took place at DCTV on
Lafayette Street on June 30, with the director/producers
Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill in the house, along with
journalists Juan Gonzalez and Pete Hamill, and two dozen
of the original Stella D’Oro factory workers.
As would be expected, there was spirited discussion and
rounds of applause for the plucky workers who struck after
their new employer demanded hefty wage and benefit
concessions, and stayed out on the lines hoping for a
miracle – only to have their prayers answered and then
dashed to the ground. Local 50 BCTGM Shop Steward Mike
Filippou, a constant presence on the strike lines, and
Sara Rodriguez, a former packaging manager at the plant –
both of whom are interviewed extensively in the film –
shared accounts of the year on the lines and the final
showdown with Brynwood Partners, the private equity fund
that bought the company from Kraft Foods and ultimately
decided to shut it down.

The film shows how some workers faced mounting health care
bills and the prospect of losing their homes after strike
benefits ran out and the regular Stella paycheck wasn’t
coming in. But workers kept the sense of family alive and
campaigned for support, even traveling to Brynwood’s
corporate headquarters for a rally.

There was a burst of elation when a federal judge ruled,
in early July of 2009, that Brynwood had failed to bargain
in good faith and must reinstate the workers. But then
Brynwood – which boasts of acquiring companies and ‘making
them more efficient’ – brutally closed the plant, selling
off the Stella D’Oro brand to Lance, Inc., a non-union
outfit, which moved production to  Ohio. The Bronx workers
got a few months of back pay but found themselves looking
for work in a decidedly difficult economic environment.

Many of the Stella D’oro strikers who came to the film’s
premiere were upbeat, and many have landed on their feet.
Money mattered a lot, but it wasn’t everything. Still
stinging from the Union’s decision not to defy Brynwood
and occupy the plant – as the immigrant laborers had in
Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors – was Filippou, who
believed that if the workers had taken aggressive action,
the New York City labor movement would have been spurred
on to make stopping the plant closing a do-or-die cause.

The PSC’s Barbara Bowen, who attended the screening,
expressed deep disappointment at the lack of broader labor
support for the Stella strikers. It didn’t happen,
possibly because some labor leaders were still smarting
over Local 50’s refusal to honor a Teamster’s picket line
two years earlier, allowing non-union truckers in to pick
up product. Among the unions that did lend support, the
most noticeable ground troops on the lines came from the
PSC.

Columnist and panelist Juan Gonzalez pointed out that,
when Daily News writers struck a decade ago, unions across
the City made sure they had a healthy strike fund to
outlast management. That didn’t happen for the 138 Stella
strikers.

Gonzalez, who is also the co-host of Democracy Now with
Amy Goodman, ended the evening warning about the growing
power of private equity funds like Brynwood, saying that,
without shareholders or public accountability, they are
free from scrutiny and can pursue the most destructive
capitalist agendas.

___________________________________________

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