Thompson: Treatment of Stella d’Oro workers ‘disgraceful’

NEW YORK-Brynwood Partners, which owns cookie-manufacturer Stella d’Oro has drawn the ire of city Comptroller and Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, who said the private equity firm’s actions are “disgraceful.”

When company’s management tried to slash the workers’ pay, paid holidays, paid sick days and pensions, the workers, members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union Local 50, began a nine month strike. The workers’ fight drew widespread support from the city’s labor movement, including from the powerful United Federation of Teachers.

The fight became a cause célèbre of the city’s labor movement, and, as the bakery workers walked the picket line each day, they were increasingly joined by members of the labor movement as well as local community members.

The workers won their fight when, in June 2009, the National Labor Review Board ruled that the management had acted illegally, and ordered the company to reinstate all the workers-with back pay and interest.

However, what should have been a celebration turned into more agony. On the day the employees returned to work, Brynwood announced that it would close the plant, only to reopen with a crew of non-union workers in distant Ohio.

Thompson is furious. “I think it’s disgraceful,” he told the World. “Those workers were on strike for the right to be able to unionize and to fight for a fair contract, and then all of a sudden, a private equity company, to save or make more money is shutting the plant down.”

Aside from moral indignation, Thompson has used his office, which manages the city’s public pension funds, to fight for the Stella d’Oro employees’ livelihoods.

“We’ve reached out to a couple public pension funds that invest hold and invest in that private equity firm,” he said, sending the message that, if you want to do business with the city of New York, you have to respect workers’ rights.

Unfortunately, the man who currently occupies the mayor’s office, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, seems to have nothing to say on the issue.

“I don’t think he’s said a word about that,” Thompson continued. “I don’t think he’s shown that he cares about the people who’ve worked for Stella d’Oro for years, who have helped to make that company the company that it is, and are now watching their jobs taken out and exported to other places.”

Thompson, even before his election as mayor, seems to be making good on his campaign promises. He argues that the billionaire Bloomberg has become increasingly out of touch with regular New Yorkers. Further, Thompson promises that he will work with the city’s labor movement, not ignore or battle it, and also fight to maintain and increase the number of jobs.

“It is unfortunate right now that they take those jobs out of the Bronx,” he said. “They take those jobs out of New York City. I think it’s unfair. I think it’s wrong.”