En Español Know Your Rights
Source: The Riverdale Press
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Crowds rally to strikers’ side

The
days are beginning to pile up for striking Stella D’oro workers who have been
on the picket line for nearly a year. So are unemployment checks and unpaid
bills. But they’re also collecting friends and allies — lots of them.

 


Their
fight for what they consider a fair contract that does not reduce salaries,
sick, holiday and vacation days or benefits, has swelled their ranks with a
steadily growing group of neighbors and sympathetic union members.

  

On
Saturday, the picket line that first formed in front of the Broadway bakery
last Aug. 13 grew to include hundreds of men, women and children snaking along
the sidewalk under the El from West 225th Street to the factory’s West 237th
Street entrance.

 


Shoppers
and retailers alike took notice, standing in doorways and parking lots to look
on as they rallied past.
  

Nearly
10 months out on strike, members of Local 50 of the Bakery, Confectioners,
Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union had never before drawn
such a crowd. Estimates range from 300 to 1,000. And with its numbers, the
group’s voice has also grown louder.

  

As
protestors passed Stop & Shop on Broadway they paused to shout “Shame on
you!” for the store’s refusal to boycott Stella D’Oro cookies, wagging their
fingers in unison. Some protestors participated in civil disobedience at the
rally, risking arrest for the cause.

 


The
event was organized by the Committee in Support of the Stella D’oro Strikers,
which has been raising money and organizing rallies like this one with the
strikers since December. They planned for the march to proceed up Broadway and
culminate with a rally on the sidewalk at West 237th Street. But some protestors
stormed toward the factory’s entrance before police put up a barrier to block
it off.

 


Cops
tried to get protestors back into the permitted area on the sidewalk but
eventually allowed approximately 75 people to remain at the entrance doors.
They walked in a circle chanting before returning into the barricaded area to
hear the speakers.

 


“Scabs
out now,” they shouted.

 


Union
members and other supporters see the strike as a symbol of hope for workers at
a time when Wall Street is getting bailouts and average New Yorkers are
suffering under the weight of recession. They have sought to portray Brynwood
Partners — the private equity firm that owns the bakery — as just another group
of greedy investors who have made unethical decisions to turn a profit. The
strike, which may be the longest currently underway in New York City, has become a symbol of
opposition to those values.


“The
city workers are here because your fight is our fight,” said Mike Gimbel of DC
37’s Local 375, adding that workers were “lighting the spark” for a resurgence
of the city’s labor movement.

 


“You’re
millions of workers,” he said.

 


Among
those represented were municipal workers from District Council 37, AFL-CIO;
healthcare workers from 1199 SEIU; members of New York State United Teachers,
which represents more than 600,000 people who work in, or are retired from,
state schools, colleges and healthcare facilities; and from The Professional
Staff Congress, the more than 20,000- strong faculty and staff union at the
City University of New York.

 


Along
with them were members of organizations including
Make
the Road New York
,
the Coalition to Preserve Community, the Private Health Insurance Must Go
Coalition and members of religious congregations at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
in Harlem and Church of the Mediator in
Kingsbridge, as well as various left-wing organizations.

 


The
show of support comes at a crucial time for the strikers. Earlier this month
The National Labor Relations Board held four days of hearings to determine
whether Byrnwood Partners had bargained in bad faith. Briefs to be submitted by
either side in the case are due mid-June.

 


The
day before the hearings began, on May 11, workers and their supporters traveled
to Connecticut
to rally in front of Brynwood Partners’ offices — gathering steam for a legal
fight that could result in a return to the bargaining table.

 


Everyday,
striking Stella D’oro workers gather outside the factory between West 236th and
West 237th Street.
Sometimes they come in numbers, other times one or two can be seen leaning
against the police barricade that marks their picket line. On Saturday they
were flanked by friends who showed that if nothing else, the passage of time is
earning them support.

 

“I
know them because I see them everyday outside the factory,” said Natali
Martins, a Kingsbridge resident who watched the strikers pass.

  

“It’s
a shame the factory has not done anything to stop that.”