'No Cookies No Contract': HBO Documentary Puts a Poignant Face on the Massacre of US Manufacturing Jobs


Isn't a 'jobless recovery' as preposterous as a fetus-less pregnancy? We've got a bloody pile-up at the intersection of Wall Street and Main Street, where reality collides with such corporate conceits. And it's the workers who wind up on life support, while the suits speed away from the wreckage undented and undaunted. Back to the bat cave, to plot the next leveraged buyout!

The new HBO documentary, No Contract No Cookies: The Stella D'Oro Strike, premiering on HBO2 tonight at 8pm, tells the story of a beloved Bronx bakery, founded by Italian immigrants in 1932, that now lies shuttered, like so many factories all over America. The saga of how the company went from a thriving family-owned enterprise to a gutted equity fund acquisition is a success story only if you're rooting for our modern day robber barons. For the dwindling middle class and the unwashed masses, it's an American tragedy that's being repeated all over the country.

No Contract No Cookies puts a poignant face -- or 138 faces, to be precise -- on the massacre of manufacturing jobs that CEOs routinely commit in the name of prosperity. At the Stella D'Oro factory, folks from 22 different countries worked convivially alongside New York natives and gained a foothold in the American middle class, only to be kicked off the ladder when Brynwood Partners, a private equity fund, bought the company. In 2008, when the workers' contract expired, Brynwood demanded a 30% pay cut.

Brynwood claimed, as the New York Times' Jennifer 8. Lee reported at the time, "that the hourly wages of $18 to $22 an hour and nine weeks of paid leave made the factory unprofitable," and demanded "significant reductions in wages and benefits in order to move the factory to profitability."

Filmmakers Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill documented the 11-month strike that ensued, capturing the camaraderie of the close-knit workers who hailed from wildly different backgrounds but shared the belief that their solid work ethic would lay the foundation for a decent future for themselves and their families, as it would have in the past.

But with our economy now founded on fictitious, bubble-based fortunes and sleazy sleights of hand, those who actually make -- or in this case, bake -- anything, are expected to accept stagnating or even declining wages even while the affluent few do better than ever. Middle class workers who banked on promised pensions and health care are now portrayed as pariahs and parasites, while the fraudsters who crashed our economy continue to call all the shots, as Frank Rich laments in his scathingNew York debut.

Brynwood refused to provide the union with financial statements to document its claims that the cuts were needed, and was found guilty of bargaining in bad faith. A federal judge ruled that the workers were entitled to their jobs, their pay, and their benefits, and ordered Brynwood to reinstate the workers.

So, the company invited the workers back and promptly announced that it would close the factory. Stella D'Oro was sold to a company named Lance, which shut the factory and moved operations to a non-union factory in Ohio where labor's a lot cheaper. Mission accomplished! Most of the former Stella D'Oro workers remain unemployed; some found a job at another bakery, only to be laid off again a few months later.

When will we stop lionizing business and demonizing labor? GOP hopefuls like Mitt Romney and Herman Cain tout their supposed business acumen as proof that they've got the right stuff to steer our economy out of the ditch. But, honestly, if you've built your financial empire by buying up companies and then driving the workers who are the backbone of those companies right into that ditch, i.e., laying off laborers to boost shareholder profits, why doesn't that qualify you as a job killer?

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last year, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka warned that "private equity's wealth extraction business model" creates a "hollow economy." We don't need a CEO in the White House; America is a nation, not a business. And a country where business owners can't figure out how to compensate themselves and their shareholders without screwing their workers is, simply, a country that doesn't work. "No Cookies No Contract" puts a face on the collateral damage brought to us by the Wall Street wizards who'll tell you they're conjuring up value. Value for who?

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