Northeast Times

Closing time?

  • Worrisome words: The Kraft factory on Roosevelt Blvd., which is now owned by Mondelez International, may be closing. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Local Baker’s Union President John Lazar expressed his fears for the many workers who would lose their jobs so close to the holidays during a news conference last week. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Taking a stand: (Left to right) State Sen. Mike Stack, Baker’s Union President John Lazar, state Reps. Brendan Boyle and Kevin Boyle and an aide to U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz oppose the potential closing of the Kraft factory. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Worrisome words: The Kraft factory on Roosevelt Blvd., which is now owned by Mondelez International, may be closing. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

An in-house an­nounce­ment last week that the com­pany that owns the old Kraft plant at By­berry and the Boulevard was con­sid­er­ing clos­ing it sent city and state of­fi­cials scram­bling to find out what they could do to save the large bakery’s al­most 300 uni­on jobs and keep Or­eos bak­ing in the North­east.

A spokes­wo­man for Mondelez In­ter­na­tion­al, which split off from Kraft last year, said the com­pany told its em­ploy­ees on Nov. 6 that it was con­sid­er­ing clos­ing down the 57-year-old bakery and heav­ily in­vest­ing in ex­pan­sion in New Jer­sey and Vir­gin­ia. Noth­ing has been de­cided yet, com­pany spokes­wo­man Laurie Guzzinati said last week. 

Still, the re­ac­tion from pub­lic of­fi­cials was swift: They don’t want what opened as a Nabisco plant in 1956 to be shuttered, and they want to meet with the com­pany to find out what they can do to keep it open.

In the late af­ter­noon Fri­day, Gov. Tom Corbett said, “I in­struc­ted the Gov­ernor’s Ac­tion Team to con­tact Mondelez to in­vest­ig­ate the situ­ation and de­term­ine our next course of ac­tion. We will con­tin­ue work­ing with the com­pany, em­ploy­ees and loc­al lead­ers to keep the fa­cil­ity and the jobs in North­east Phil­adelphia.”

Earli­er Fri­day, state Sen. Mike Stack and state Reps. Kev­in and Brendan Boyle stood with bakers’ uni­on lead­ers out­side the plant and prom­ised to do everything they can to make sure it stays open.

City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill (R-10th dist.) said he ex­pects the com­pany will meet first with city and state gov­ern­ment rep­res­ent­at­ives who want to find out what the com­pany needs to keep the plant open and have any prob­lems laid out.

“We need to find out how much help they want, how much we can help and if it’s enough to keep them here,” O’Neill said Monday.

Al­though no meet­ing date has been set, the coun­cil­man said he ex­pects city and state ad­min­is­trat­ive of­fi­cials will meet with com­pany ex­ec­ut­ives be­fore those ex­ecs meet with elec­ted of­fi­cials later this week. O’Neill, cur­rently out of town, said he hopes to be back in the city for that second meet­ing. State Rep. Ed Neilson also said he an­ti­cip­ates such a get-to­geth­er and ex­pects to be there.

Guzzinati last week said Mondelez, whose well-known brands in­clude Or­eos, Ritz crack­ers, Teddy Gra­hams, Cad­bury chocol­ates and Tang, is con­sid­er­ing spend­ing $100 mil­lion to ex­pand its bak­ing fa­cil­it­ies in Fair­lawn, N.J., and Rich­mond, Va., but Stack and the Boyle broth­ers on Fri­day said there is plenty of room in North­east Philly, and the com­pany could grow right here.

There are sev­er­al in­dus­tri­al prop­er­ties not far away from the plant, Kev­in Boyle said.

The Boulevard bakery is zoned light in­dus­tri­al, and much of that type of zon­ing in the city is con­cen­trated nearby.

The com­pany could pro­duce more at its Boulevard plant, said John Laz­ar, pres­id­ent of the plant’s baker’s uni­on loc­al. He said only four ovens are be­ing op­er­ated right now, and the plant has eight.

IT STAR­TED NOV. 6

This is all just be­gin­ning, Guzzinati said, stress­ing again that no de­cision has been made. Com­pany ex­ec­ut­ives have told city of­fi­cials that they have no im­me­di­ate plans to leave Phil­adelphia, said Mark Mc­Don­ald, May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter’s spokes­man. 

Laz­ar said plant man­ager Rusty Moore on Nov. 6 told em­ploy­ees the plant’s clos­ing was a strong pos­sib­il­ity. “They told us they want to shore up East Coast” op­er­a­tions, he said.

That an­nounce­ment “came out of the blue,” Laz­ar said Nov. 7.

If Mondelez does leave Philly, Laz­ar said, sev­er­al hun­dred good-pay­ing jobs will leave with it.

“That would be an out­rageous thing,” Stack said.

Es­pe­cially, Brendan Boyle said, since what he called “an icon­ic build­ing in the North­east” is a prof­it­able build­ing for Mondelez.

He said Mondelez is not in bad fin­an­cial shape. 

“They’re ac­tu­ally do­ing quite well,” he said.

There’s no reas­on, he said, for hun­dreds of “good, fam­ily-sus­tain­ing jobs” to leave Phil­adelphia, Brendan Boyle said.

Work­ers earn $24 to $26 hourly at the plant that for years was Nabisco and once the North­east’s tallest build­ing. “These are good, middle-class jobs with good be­ne­fits and good health plans,” Laz­ar said. 

“This com­pany is rooted in this area,” Stack said. “It is con­nec­ted to the ba­sic sta­bil­ity of this area.”

Gen­er­a­tions of fam­il­ies worked at the plant, Laz­ar said. “People came here and stayed 40 years,” said Laz­ar, who put in 30 years be­fore be­com­ing pres­id­ent of Loc­al 492 of the Bakery, To­bacco and Con­fec­tion­ery Work­ers’ Uni­on.

“Two hun­dred and sev­enty-sev­en of the loc­al’s mem­bers cur­rently are work­ing on the Boulevard,” Laz­ar said. About 100 were laid off in the past year or so. ••

Who is Mondelez?

Snack maker Mondelez In­ter­na­tion­al is a com­pany that split off from Kraft Foods in late 2012. The com­pany has $35 bil­lion in glob­al sales of some of the most well-known cook­ies, crack­ers and sweets in the world. Or­eos, Chips Ahoy, Triscuits, New­tons and Ritz crack­ers are just a few of its brands. Mondelez also makes the or­ange-flavored break­fast drink Tang, Tri­dent gum and Cad­bury chocol­ates.

U.S. mar­kets: Al­though a Mondelez spokes­wo­man said the United States is the com­pany’s largest mar­ket, 80 per­cent of the com­pany’s sales are in for­eign coun­tries.

Trad­ing: Mondelez is lis­ted on the NAS­DAQ Glob­al Se­lect Mar­ket as MDLZ 

On­line: www.mondelez­in­ter­na­tion­al.com

Cor­por­ate headquar­ters: Deer­field, Ill.

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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