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
Corporate headquarters: Deerfield, Ill.