The Stella D’oro strikers have asked CHALLENGE to print excerpts from an open letter from Stella D’oro Workers in the Bronx to Lance Workers in Ashland, Ohio:
Dear Workers at Lance:
We work at the Stella D’Oro bakery in the Bronx in NYC. Many of us have worked for the company for as many as 30 years.
In 2006, a private equity firm, Brynwood Partners, bought Stella D’Oro to squeeze out a higher rate of profit for its investors. In 2008, Brynwood’s demanded that the assembly line workers accept a 25% wage-cut, as well as a reduction in health benefits, sick days and vacation time. Our union offered to negotiate but Brynwood said, “Take it or leave it,” and imposed the new terms.
Lance managers will tell you that we were greedy. But how could we accept a 25% wage-cut? Our rents and mortgages weren’t going to be reduced, nor were food prices, or college tuition payments for our children! It was the greed of the multi-millionaires who run Brynwood Partners that forced us to strike.
For eleven months we existed on unemployment insurance, but not a single person crossed the picket line. Then word of our struggle began reaching people throughout the city. Transit workers, teachers and professors, postal workers, students and others came to our picket line. Thousands came to plant rallies, union members throughout the state donated money to support us, and thousands of customers refused to buy Stella D’Oro products during the strike.
At the end of June, the NLRB ruled that the company had to take us back and bargain in good faith. We thought we had won. But only a few days later, Brynwood announced that it planned to close the plant in October, in a city with 10% unemployment.
You know what happened: Brynwood sold the Stella D’Oro name and plant machinery to Lance, which plans to make some of its products in Ashland. We know that unemployment is high in Ohio, as companies have moved better-paying jobs to low-wage areas. That’s what Lance is doing here! It has no intention of giving you the same wages and benefits we had won through years of struggle. It will pay you a fraction of our hourly wage, give you an inferior health plan, and provide fewer sick days and vacation time. And we bet it won’t bring all 135 jobs to Ashland, just as it didn’t rehire all the unemployed Archway workers when it took over your bakery.
We want you to know that we don’t blame you for what’s happening. We also want you to know that we’re not going down without a fight. We can’t afford to lose our jobs. There will be rallies throughout NYC demanding that Stella D’Oro stay in the Bronx.
The owners want to keep us separate, pit the Ashland and Bronx workers against each other. But every gain for labor has come when working people united and fought together for things they needed: a shorter work-week, pensions, health care, social security. In these rough times, our unity is more important than ever. We ask you to understand our position and offer whatever solidarity you can.