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Vol. 73/No. 27      July 20, 2009

Company threatens plant
closure after union victory
BRONX, New York—Bakery workers who have been on strike for nearly 11 months returned to work July 7 after winning a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling reinstating their jobs with back pay. The company has threatened to close the plant in October.

According to workers in the plant, union officials have said they will oppose any attempt by the company to move the plant.

During the strike at the Stella D’oro Biscuit Company not one member of Local 50 of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) crossed the picket line.

The June 30 NLRB ruling orders the company to reinstate all of the workers under terms of the last contract, to pay them wages going back to May with interest, and to provide the union a copy of its 2007 audited financial statement for the purpose of negotiating a new contract in “good faith.”

The decision is largely based on the fact that the company told the union that it could not afford to continue to operate without cutting labor costs, and refused to supply the union with copies of financial records to prove that claim. The company sought $1.6 million in concessions from the workers.

The 136 workers, many of them immigrants, in mid-August unanimously rejected the company’s contract offer, which included cuts of up to 25 percent in hourly wages; steep reductions in vacation, sick, personal, and holiday pay; and increased health-care costs. The judge also ruled invalid the company’s declaration on August 27 of an “impasse” in negotiations.

The strikers withstood harsh weather conditions as well as pressure from the company in various forms, such as job fairs held right near the picket line. Early in the walkout the company attempted to divide strikers between so-called skilled and unskilled workers. Skilled workers were offered their jobs back with no wage changes, according to some of the strikers.

Workers on the picket line cheered upon hearing the news of the ruling, said Mike Filippou, a worker and union representative. Filippou noted that as part of the ruling the company would have to pay replacement workers back pay as well, since they were being paid much less than the unionized workers. Some replacement workers, he said, when coming to get their checks congratulated the strikers and said they want to join the union, too.

“I didn’t think we would win because I thought the rich always get their way,” commented striker Emelia Dorsu. “I was so surprised and so happy. People have been supporting us, which helped us stand our ground, and we stood out there all this time.”

Dorsu called the ruling a victory for all working people. She said in a later interview, “Now we need to fight to keep the plant open and in the Bronx.”

Filippou emphasized, “No fight is easy or overnight, but we still need to struggle to win. Now with the economic crisis deepening, and workers facing layoffs and pay cuts, more people will need to fight and stick together.”
Related articles:
Immigrant workers demand jobs back
N. Carolina meat packers win first union pact
Legalize all immigrants now!  
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