According to former employees of the Stella D’oro Biscuit Co. in New York City, CITGO, the US subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA) oil monopoly, attempted to buy the company’s Bronx plant in early October to save the jobs of 136 unionized workers but the Connecticut-based private equity firm that owned the company ignored the offer. The facility was closed on Oct. 8.
The plant closing followed a bitter labor dispute that started in August 2008 over demands for cuts in wages and benefits by the private equity firm, Brynwood Partners. The workers went on strike, holding out for 11 months. The job action ended in July when the National Labor Relations Board ordered the company to take back the strikers under the terms of their old contract and with back pay. Brynwood responded by selling Stella D’oro to snack food giant Lance, Inc., which quickly moved production to a non-union shop in Ohio.
Several of the workers and their supporters spoke with Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez on Sept. 23 when he was in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. A week later, CITGO executive Andreas Rangel came to New York to talk to the workers. According to Bronx community activist René Rojas, CITGO wanted to buy or rent the plant and reorganize it as a worker-run cooperative, possibly selling the cooperative’s cookies at CITGO’s 7,000 gas stations. But Brynwood failed to respond to CITGO’s phone calls and emails, the workers said.
While the government of Venezuela seemed interested in saving the plant, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg “didn’t even try to find a solution,” said local labor activist Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez. “It’s such a travesty.” (The Indypendent, NYC, Nov. 20)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 15