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Noted: No Contract, No Cookies

Jul 13, 2011

by Chappell Ellison

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

For many Americans who grew up in the Northeast, a coffee break simply wasn’t right without Stella D’oro cookies. Established in the Bronx over 70 years ago, the Stella D’oro factory produced thousands of Italian-inspired cookies through the support of a tight-knit group of workers, most of whom came from far-away countries to pursue their American dreams.

The trouble began in 2006, when Brynwood Partners bought the factory. Instead of renewing the workers’ contracts as they stood, Brynwood sought to reduce wages by 30% and drastically cut benefits. For the many workers who had been with the factory for 30 years, this was a devastating blow.

No Contract, No Cookies documents the 11-month long employee strike that followed the proposed wage reductions, exposing the personal struggles of the workers to maintain a positive outlook. When Brynwood refused to reinstate the employees, a lawsuit followed. When the judge ruled in favor of the workers, few could hold back their emotions. Though it seemed a happy ending was in sight, Brynwood’s response to the verdict was tragic and heartbreaking, leaving 138 workers and their families to struggle with a questionable future.

Though No Contract, No Cookies fails to offer a thorough perspective on Brynwood Partners and the economic complexities of the neighborhood, the passion and unbreakable bond of the workers is undeniably compelling. When two former Stella D’oro employees, a bear-like Greek man and an outspoken Vietnamese fellow, cement their friendship over heaping bowls of Pho, we are reminded that behind every factory machine is a craftsman with a story to tell. The origins of a workers’ strike may be rooted around the boss man, but the legacy seems to ultimately confront the consumer.

No Contract, No Cookies is playing throughout the month of July. Check HBO for local listings.

More Noted Posts | Plants and Edibles Category

67 comments

  • dennisanderson

    dennisanderson said 5 years ago

    The end of times are really nearing.

  • KettleConfections

    KettleConfections said 5 years ago

    Very interesting - we can only wonder how many other times a story like this is being repeated every month- private equity firms buying and selling companies for a profit and with no regard for the people these companies employ.

  • dennisanderson

    dennisanderson said 5 years ago

    Oh and Cisco is slimming its workforce by 10,000 http://www.ecommercetimes.com/story/Cisco-Slims-Down-Its-Workforce-72854.html

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush said 5 years ago

    How painfully beautiful. Is it too late to ask for world peace?

  • aBreathofFrenchair

    aBreathofFrenchair said 5 years ago

    It's all very sad. So many people are losing their jobs.

  • natalietoday

    natalietoday said 5 years ago

    So painful yet so common, happening in similar ways all over.

  • bedouin

    bedouin said 5 years ago

    Those colorful little cookies that melt in mouth with a cup of coffee now my heart. Shame on Brynwood

  • MandyBesek

    MandyBesek said 5 years ago

    Sounds like quite a battle, thanks for sharing this, I'll have to watch the full story.

  • MootiDesigns

    MootiDesigns said 5 years ago

    THanks for sharing.

  • TwinkleStarCrafts

    TwinkleStarCrafts said 5 years ago

    Wow. Interesting article. Thank you.

  • CarolynCochrane

    CarolynCochrane said 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing, very interesting and sad.

  • dasweetzpot

    dasweetzpot said 5 years ago

    I remember by Grema serving Stella D'Oro cookies with afternoon espresso

  • Earleyimages

    Earleyimages said 5 years ago

    Thanks for the information

  • funktionslust

    funktionslust said 5 years ago

    I can't imagine working loyally for a company for 30 years and then having the rug pulled out from under me...That's incredibly demoralizing and unfair.

  • pitterpattertutus

    pitterpattertutus said 5 years ago

    Ugh... this is so sad... It's so rare these days that anyone would spend so much time and loyalty to one employer, and sadly it seems rarer that that kind of dedication is appreciated. Tragic.

  • iluxo

    iluxo said 5 years ago

    I love HBO documentaries! I recently found out about Stella d'Oro cookies from a Patton Oswalt sketch about a very strange ad that Stella d'Oro ran on TV years ago. It never occurred to me then to think of the craftsman behind the company.

  • tablefor2please

    tablefor2please said 5 years ago

    Very tragic. What is the world coming to?

  • tokenandpine

    tokenandpine said 5 years ago

    I'd be interested to learn the motivation behind the original buy-out and the wage-and-benefits reduction. I know all too well the side of the slighted employee, but we often don't get the whole story.

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 said 5 years ago

    Will look forward to the documentary. Thanks for mentioning it.

  • chaps676 Admin

    chaps676 said 5 years ago

    tokendanpine: I felt the same way. The workers in this situation were absolutely slighted, but I was hoping the documentary would provide more background about Brynwood.

  • DessertWine

    DessertWine said 5 years ago

    Support small business - big business is getting it all wrong!

  • VintageEyeFashion

    VintageEyeFashion said 5 years ago

    I heard an interview with two of the workers & the filmmaker on NPR. Sadly, this same story continues to be repeated again & again....

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 5 years ago

    Sounds interesting, it seems there are plenty companies out there who are trying to squeeze workers and maximise profits but what's wrong with doing honest business...

  • DreamsandJewelry

    DreamsandJewelry said 5 years ago

    This shows the ugly truth of corporate greed. I wouldn't be surprised if they started outsourcing from Asia. Shame on these American companies with no loyalty to the Americans that make their companies what they are.

  • bigapplegrafix

    bigapplegrafix said 5 years ago

    stella d'oro is hugely nostalgic for me...but more importantly than that is these workers lives. I will definitely watch the documentary. But please, please stop with the 'end of the world' comments. Huge corporations laying off workers? Harsh, but not the end. Lets remember that corporate greed is nothing new and Etsy is a huge shining example of diy success, something not as accessible decades ago...although transition is (very very) painful, especially for those directly affected, do we really even want to continue working for these huge corporations if there's another way? We don't need them. We need a good earth, good food, fresh air...we have everything directly accessible here and perhaps we can consider the idea that we don't need an intermediary corporation to provide that to us.

  • TheScarfTree

    TheScarfTree said 5 years ago

    This was a very interesting story - sad and true at the same time, a very tough situation one!

  • rejive

    rejive said 5 years ago

    We can count on nothing in this world. God is the only true stability.

  • shannondzikas

    shannondzikas said 5 years ago

    Mmm, those cookies are delicious! I had no idea there was such a story behind them. Always important to know who is making the food we enjoy. Thank you.

  • auntjanecan

    auntjanecan said 5 years ago

    So sad. So shameful on the corporate greed. Yes, what is this world coming to???

  • YellowViolet

    YellowViolet said 5 years ago

    I'll never look at a Breakfast Treat the same again.

  • GwensArtDreamscape

    GwensArtDreamscape said 5 years ago

    For more info http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brynwood_Partners Seems that they are an investment firm and probably investigated the company, saw they could reduce the wages and thereby make a profit. It's what they do. They don't care about what it does to people's lives, they just care about what it does to their profits. Seems they decided to cut their losses in a punitive fashion to the workers. Most corporations don't care about loyalty back to loyal workers, nothing personal, there's just no profit in it. It's a sociopathic way of doing business and is how most corporations and investment firms operate.

  • TheMillineryShop

    TheMillineryShop said 5 years ago

    Why are stories Stella D'Oro still so shocking? As Americans, we do the right things to others and expect the right thing to bye done by us. We believe that the American way is just, and working hard gets you where you want to go. And then this happens and it is just incomprehensible to me how un-enlightened people can be.

  • TeaHouseVintage

    TeaHouseVintage said 5 years ago

    Even if we don't work for a corporation, our lives are still affected by this growing trend of mistreatment of workers. Businesses are also taking over entities that used to be publicly run by city and town governments, including, incredibly, public libraries. It's just absurd how profit and greed rules. Why don't corporations realize that loyal, well compensated employees ARE good for business!?

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage said 5 years ago

    Interesting article!

  • EmilyEckel

    EmilyEckel said 5 years ago

    It is so important to not forget.

  • HeirloomOrphanage

    HeirloomOrphanage said 5 years ago

    Thanks so much for bringing this story to the Esty blog! I just read the synopsis on HBO and what a story! So sad. No more cookies for me. We had a similar event here in the SF Bay Area with the closing of Joseph Schmidt chocolates. Incredibly sad to see my beloved bakers and chocolatiers going away or worse yet - companies 're-inventing' products in out-of-state non-union factories. Just another example of corporate greed. But everyday Etsy brings us wonderful artisans - so this is truly a wonderful venue and hopefully one that can/will counter act the large corporations.

  • ddnolan

    ddnolan said 5 years ago

    Very heartbreaking to me, I guess their business smarts aren't so smart-The employees ARE THE COMPANY, without them it's just a factory.

  • Waterrose

    Waterrose said 5 years ago

    thanks for reminding us of things like that. just saw on the news that if we each spent about 3.5 per year on local products we would create 10,000 jobs...just think if we spent more then that...

  • 4andrea

    4andrea said 5 years ago

    Unfortunately it seems that whatever American companies can ship anywhere in the world to make for cents on the dollar using slave labor, then markup their product a thousand times they DO. This is a sad story, but a testament to American business politics in this new century- sky high profits, golden parachutes, huge bonuses and payouts- all before humanity matters and preserving a REAL economy (not the inflated current fake one that is indebted to other countries). So many of us say that employees are the company, and they are, but not in corp. America. I'm so glad etsy exists so individuals can take back their buying power and their power to actually make something on American soil at decent prices for all involved.

  • katrinaalana

    katrinaalana said 5 years ago

    This is just so sad

  • verdigreen

    verdigreen said 5 years ago

    Thank you for sharing Etsy! Fascinatingly depressing and true to life with the added appeal of my fave "with coffee" cookie. The dreamer in me hopes a few of the workers open an Etsy bakery shop.

  • ElisaGomez

    ElisaGomez said 5 years ago

    Shame on Brynwood....my heart goes out to the workers and their families

  • misscharlottejewelry

    misscharlottejewelry said 5 years ago

    Ahhhh... Stella D'oro cookies! I remember them well.

  • misscharlottejewelry

    misscharlottejewelry said 5 years ago

    I was in a massive layoff situation, life goes on!

  • scampthecat

    scampthecat said 5 years ago

    Recently, I have been able to buy Stella D'Oro cookies again. I knew Brynwood had shut down the factory a couple years ago, and I thought the cookies would be gone forever, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the cookies again . . . just in the last month or two. All the varieties (Breakfast Treats, Anisette Toast and Sponge and Almond Toast, etc.) are available at Meijer (Midwestern grocery store chain). The cookies are made by Lance in Charlotte, NC, now, and the Almond Toast and Anisette Toast taste just like I remember it.

  • NatalieDrest

    NatalieDrest said 5 years ago

    Articles like this let me see the worth in the 'Schrodinger's Cat' Bumper Sticker...... "Eat the Rich"

  • LavenderField

    LavenderField said 5 years ago

    That's awful...

  • JulieParisiArt

    JulieParisiArt said 5 years ago

    I remember my grandma giving us those cookies as kids. What a mess. I hate big business.

  • good4you

    good4you said 5 years ago

    a cookie strike! it will be neat to see the documentary.

  • amth13

    amth13 said 5 years ago

    Same happened here in the uk with Cadbury's, The director publicly begged the share holders not to sell to Kraft just for a quick profit - cadbury shares were already giving a great return. But it was sold and with obscene hast Kraft closed one of the factories and has started moving more production abroad.

  • BarnshopAntiques

    BarnshopAntiques said 5 years ago

    This has been going on for a long time. I noticed when I worked for companies that put money above decency they fail (same with relationships, and governments). Want to see how a company should treat their workers? Check out the story of Bob's Mills. The man who made the grain products, it's an awesome true story that is very uplifting.

  • maire60

    maire60 said 5 years ago

    We should not reward Stella D'oro for closing this factory by continuing to buy their product. Even if it is still made in America. They just want to make their profits where they can, and I won't support that.

  • PyxusPassionProject

    PyxusPassionProject said 5 years ago

    It's so sad that this is the way of the world now.. corporations looking to get the biggest bang out of their buck by skimming it off the backs of workers. Of course, I'm sure there are tons of variables involved with this case as well but I'd love to see the documentary and learn more. Thanks for sharing!!

  • Opafaf

    Opafaf said 5 years ago

    I could go for some cookies...

  • nearlywild

    nearlywild said 5 years ago

    Open your eyes, people! There are two sides to every story. "Boro jobs before profits" Are they joking? How many Etsiers who make a living selling their crafts are willing to sell their products at no profit? If workers really expect to have jobs without profits for the owners and shareholders they should go look for jobs in a communist country. And good luck with that. I apologise for the rant. It annoys and saddens me when people can't or won't see the big picture. When both sides refuse to compromise, everyone loses.

  • OliveLongstocking

    OliveLongstocking said 5 years ago

    There are real people behind every job. Companies need to look after their longstanding employees. A job is so much more than that, it's about being valued for what you do. To cut salaries that much is appaulling.... it's saying to the employees............... we don't value what you do anymore. Surely, there must have been another way around the problem ? Bonds in Australia, cut alot of local jobs and sent their sewing overseas to China. At the same time the CEO had a pay rise ! I dont buy 'Bonds' anymore.

  • 2TrickPony

    2TrickPony said 5 years ago

    There is profit, and there is greed, and there is a difference between the two.

  • EnRouteStudio

    EnRouteStudio said 5 years ago

    Furniture shaped like cookies.... Mmm.

  • KettleConfections

    KettleConfections said 5 years ago

    corporations hold a lot of power these days and it's probably because we give it to them by placing our savings in the stock market for x% in return, meanwhile, but what price do we pay for the easy money gain from investing, or from cheaper goods .. outsourced jobs, makes no sense.

  • chaps676 Admin

    chaps676 said 5 years ago

    amth13: I kept up with the Cadbury's story and was similarly disappointed with the outcome!

  • BanglewoodSupplies

    BanglewoodSupplies said 5 years ago

    Very sad.

  • Iammie

    Iammie said 5 years ago

    Interesting article.

  • misscharlottejewelry

    misscharlottejewelry said 5 years ago

    Oooooh... the evil capitalist pigs!!!!!!

  • ALLcountrybyST1mesa

    ALLcountrybyST1mesa said 5 years ago

    I took a sabatical off of work for the summer months to help my husband with our farm. That was 2 months ago. I still have 3 months off and I am able to start getting my etsy shop off the ground. I had breakfast with my bosses last week. I was informed that I would not be returning as the office manager. Altho no less pay, I no longer get my simple ira or health benefits. I understand that I probably shouldn't have taken these months off, but did so because of health reasons. I have been there 8 years. I was told the company is restructing everything. In 2 months, they have fired 4 people (some of the greatest guys there and our customers loved them), due to trying to "Cut Costs". These people have been with the company a very long time and my heart goes out to their families. Because of the "new situation" I am totally rethinking my employment there. I don't want to work for someone that doesn't have any morals anymore. The employees MADE that company (including me) what it is today. Shame on them. I am grateful to Etsy, altho I haven't made a sale yet, that there IS a way out of my mess. Again, I understand that big business needs to make a profit, and so does the little guys, but it really stinks when the employees that made your business what it is today, have to be the ladder that they got to walk on/up. :(

  • ohbabydotcom

    ohbabydotcom said 5 years ago

    Very interesting!

  • IndulgeYourShelf

    IndulgeYourShelf said 5 years ago

    I grew up on these cookies. And, in adulthood my FAVORITES were Swiss Fudge Cookies. :(

  • misscharlottejewelry

    misscharlottejewelry said 5 years ago

    I don't understand, ALLcountrybyST1mesa, did you take sabbatical to help out on the farm or for health reasons? Anyway, you should consider yourself lucky you weren't fired (layed off?) with the others. I've known people who came back to their job after a vacation, only to find out they were no longer employed. My favorite Stella d'oro cookies were annisette & almond toasts.

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