Rev. Billy, Local Pols Protest Stella D'oro Closing, Want Govt. to Act
At right, Reverend Billy (in white) and New York Senate candidate Jonathan Tasini at Stella D'oro Rally. Photos by Candice M. Giove.
The now-unemployed bakers of the septuagenarian cookie company Stella D'oro , various union representatives and cause sympathizers spewed vitriol at the private equity firm responsible for the factory's closure, politicians, and capitalism as they protested a day after operations came to a close at the Bronx plant.
Despite the venomous words for the system, a few in politics like Green party mayoral candidate Rev. Billy and two Bronx assemblymen joined the rally. In his white suit and satirical clerical collar, Rev. Billy chastised Brynwood Partners for the firm's imminent sale to Lance, Inc. "They're stripping the logo, stealing the equipment, taking it to Ohio where they don't have a union," he said. "It is union-busting pure and simple."
He marched alongside workers of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 50 and vowed to support them in any way possible. It is unclear what could be done to spare the 130 workers -- who engaged in a protracted fight with the company over contract -- from unemployment in the throes of a recession, but many, like Rev. Billy, believed Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg possessed the power to prevent Connecticut-based Brynwood Partners from leaving their venture in New York City...
"Bloomberg could step in in a minute and protect these people," he emphatically said, his trademark quaff of hair bouncing with the pronouncement. "He is a Republican billionaire and he doesn't like worker movements. He never has. He only deals with unions that really, like the teacher's union, have him trapped otherwise Bloomberg Inc. is not a union house."
The jobs will now move to a factory in Ohio, where Lance Inc. already operates.
During last ditch effort protests before yesterday's closure, workers and Bronx elected officials pressured the city's finance department to obtain a restraining order to halt the move of industrial baking equipment, which is part of the sale package, from leaving the Bronx. According to a Department of Finance spokesman, Stella D'oro received almost a half a million dollars in tax abatements for capital improvements since 1999. They said the city has no legal recourse, since no clawback provision is included in the breaks.
Assemblyman Jose Rivera promised to draft a resolution to make it impossible for companies to receive tax abatements and then flee the city. (He also suggested that the mayor buy the plant himself.)
"If you want taxpayers money you should make a commitment," he yelled to the crowd outside the factory, "that you're business will remain in this city, in this borough for at least 50 years."
The idea made perfect sense to Assemblyman Michael Benjamin (speaking above). "Whenever business gets in trouble they want socialism from government," he said. "They want government loans and government bailouts. But when it's time they decide they want to quit, they want to walk away from what government has given them."
He agreed that the measure proposed by Rivera should be pursued. As he stood in front of the mixed crowd of unemployed bakers, union members and anti-capitalists, he added that the machinery shouldn't leave the borough. He said pressure needed to be applied to Governor David Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg to intervene before the company's sale is final.
"Let's see them protect the middle class from keeping these people from not leaving," he said.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.