Cookies and contracts

By Michelle Chen Jul 04, 2009

The Stella D’Oro cookie factory workers–whom we last visited back in February as they toughed it out picketing through the dead of winter–have gotten a summer break. An administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board issued a ruling this week ordering that Stella D’Oro reinstate the workers and pay them back wages. According to the decision, the company, owned by the private equity firm Brynwood Partners, had violated collective bargaining procedures and failed to turn over key documentation to representatives of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union. The strikers’ website reports:

Brynwood Partners has been ordered to allow the strikers to go back to their jobs, and to pay them retro money from May 6th of this year. Also, the workers will get pension credit for the time they were out. However, Brynwood can appeal the order. If so, the strikers are committed to putting the strongest possible pressure on the company to end the strike by complying with the NLRB’s determinations. The workers would return to work under the old contract, and then could begin negotiating a new agreement.

The workers have fought an uphill battle in the Bronx for months, garnering warm local support and national attention. Though they number only 134, they fold into a much larger labor struggle, representing working-class communities of color across New York City and beyond. The changing nature of America’s food industry is evident in the transformation of the Stella D’Oro company—from a Bronx mom-and-pop shop to an arm of the Kraft monopoly to the acquisition of a Greenwich private equity fund. The struggle against the management’s move to strip benefits and slash wages reflects the tightening squeeze on the manufacturing workforce nationwide, as well as the weakened influence of unions. Will old-school picketing, boycotts and strike tactics (albeit enhanced with new media and infused with populist momentum) prevail in a political climate hostile to organized labor? For now, at least the Stella D’Oro workers will have a place at the table again. Image: Stella D’Oro rally (Eddie C via DailyKos)