Friday, September 11, 2009

The Cookie Crumbles

The Stella D'oro factory, a fixture in the Bronx for 70 years is going to close at the end of the month-and 138 manufacturing jobs will be gone for good. As the NY Daily News reports: "Workers at the Stella D'oro cookie factory in the Bronx were still in shock Thursday as the news sunk in that the business had been sold and was moving to Ohio. They wondered how they'd pay their rents and mortgages, how they'd find another job in today's recession and what they'd do without health insurance. "My family is going to suffer," said Evelyn Rivera, a packer at the plant for the past two years. "This is so sad. The company has been here for more than 70 years."

This is more than a shock, it is an outrage. What makes us upset is the fact that these are the kind of jobs that the city's EDC should be fighting to maintain; and not retail jobs that will only cannibalize existing store employment. Unfortunately, that's the main job description of the economic development official in New York-wait for a company like Related to come along with a plan to build a mall, and then throw millions of tax dollars at the company-and do so at the expense of those struggling store owners in the mall's catchment area.

Or, if the agency's gets even more creative, the energies of EDC are directed at actually evicting existing manufacturing businesses-as in the case of the Bronx Terminal Market, West Harlem and Willets Point. Then the jobs that are going to relatively unskilled immigrant workers can be eliminated altogether. And with Willets Point, they number in the thousands.

This is a crackpot economic development policy-and the plight of displaced workers is driven home by the Stella D'oro story: "Workers, who already went through a long, bitter strike that ended in July, trudged out at the end of the day's shift Thursday with hangdog faces and tales of heartbreak. Rivera said she cannot afford the $1,200 to $1,600 monthly health insurance payments available through her union, Local 50 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. "I guess I will go like everyone else on unemployment. Imagine this: 138 people out on the street."

So when the Bloomberg campaign hits us with another one of those, "five borough economic development" ads, remember the Stella D'oro workers-and remember all of the rhetoric you heard from the mayor about fighting to keep the plant open. Oh, wait a second. Let's all join in with a chorus of Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence."

Bloomberg's silence may be related to the following: "Connecticut-based private equity firm Brynwood Partners announced Wednesday it is selling the popular Italian cookie and breadstick baker to snackfood maker Lance Inc." So another hedge fund comes in to rape a business and then spin it off. But it's a methodology that the mayor-but particularly Deputy Dan Doctoroff-are extremely comfortable with. It's a lot simpler to mall the city and claim that you're creating jobs when what you are really doing is destroying neighborhood business that is vital to the continued economic health of New York.