The cookie crumbles

What had been a Nabisco plant for decades will turn off its ovens next year.

The bit­ter end: Mondelez In­ter­na­tion­al an­nounced on Feb. 6 that it would close the old Nabisco bakery in early 2015. TIMES FILE PHOTO

More than 350 jobs will be lost when the old Nabisco bakery at the Boulevard and By­berry closes early next year, law­makers are say­ing.

Much more. 

“The eco­nom­ic im­pact is huge,” state Sen. Mike Stack (D-5th dist.) said Feb. 7. 

First, sub­tract 350 fam­ily in­comes and all the money they would be put­ting in­to the re­gion’s eco­nomy. Then, think about all the truck­ers, sup­pli­ers and con­tract­ors who do busi­ness with Mondelez in Phil­adelphia, Stack said.

“There are loc­al con­tract­ors in the build­ing on a daily basis,” said state Rep. Ed Neilson (D-169th dist.) “I know someone who has been in and out of there for 10 years.”

Neilson said he be­lieved the plant used loc­al parts sup­pli­ers and, “I would sus­pect many may eat at the diner next door. It goes on and on from there.”

Mondelez In­ter­na­tion­al, which now owns the plant that makes Or­eos and oth­er fa­vor­ite snack foods, an­nounced on Feb. 6 that it would close the 57-year-old bakery in early 2015. Com­pany spokes-wo-man Laurie Guzzinati said Mondelez, which split off from Kraft Foods in late 2012, was con­sol­id­at­ing its East Coast op­er­a­tions and will in­vest $130 mil­lion in fa­cil­it­ies in Fair Lawn, N.J., and Rich­mond, Va.

Uni­on mem­bers had learned Nov. 6 that the bakery might shut down, John Laz­ar, pres­id­ent of the plant’s baker’s uni­on loc­al, said in the fall. As soon as they heard, state and city of-fi-cials went in­to over­drive to try to get the com­pany to tell them how they could keep the plant at 12000 Roosevelt Blvd. from shut­ting down.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s Ac­tion team, state le­gis­lat­ors, a loc­al coun­cil­man and city agen­cies all put their heads to­geth­er to see if they could come up with tax and oth­er in­cent­ives to keep the Mondelez plant open.

“It was a ter­rif­ic bi­par­tis­an ef­fort,” Stack said late last week.

A com­pany ex­ec­ut­ive met with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in Novem­ber, City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill (R-10th dist.) said re­cently, but noth­ing ever came of it. Be-sides Stack and O’Neill, rep-res-ent-at-ives of the gov-ernor’s of-fice, the City Com-merce De-part-ment and oth-er agen-cies met with the Mondelez ex­ec­ut­ive. State Reps. Brendan Boyle and Ed Neilson par-ti-cip-ated by phone from Har-ris-burg. 

And then, noth­ing happened.

O’Neill said he nev­er heard any­thing spe­cif­ic from the com­pany. Neilson said the same.

“They nev­er really told us what they wanted,” Stack said. “Their re­sponse was, in a word, un­re­spons­ive.” 

“They didn’t tell us what they wanted either,” said Laz­ar, pres­id­ent of the uni­on. “We were open to any dis­cus­sions.” 

Laz­ar said com­pany ex­ec­ut­ives met with uni­on reps on Dec. 18. “They said, ‘Give us your pro­pos­als,’ ” Laz­ar said in a phone in­ter­view Monday. “But we didn’t have any pro­pos­als. We wanted to know what the com­pany had been offered” by state and loc­al of­fi­cials.

He said the ex­ec­ut­ives told the uni­on the city and state didn’t have any­thing that in­ter­ested them, and that clos­ing the Phil­adelphia plant would save Mondelez $41 mil­lion a year.

Laz­ar said the uni­on asked if any­thing could be done to keep the plant open, and he said the re­sponse was, “We don’t know if any­thing can be done.” 

Guzzinati said Mondelez met with rep­res­ent­at­ives of its em­ploy­ees’ uni­on, Loc­al 492 of the Bakery, To­bacco and Con­fec­tion­ery Work­ers’ Uni­on, and de­cided to get out of Phil­adelphia.

“Once dis­cus­sions with the uni­on con­cluded, we did not en­vi­sion a scen­ario based on the stat­utor­ily avail­able in­cent­ives and tax cred­its that would have provided a vi­able al­tern­at­ive to clos­ing the Phil­adelphia bakery,” she stated in a Feb. 7 email to the North­east Times.

Laz­ar said, “I think they just wanted to say they talked to the uni­on.”

O’Neill said Fri­day he had be­come con­vinced the com­pany already had de­cided to leave Phil­adelphia, and noth­ing could be done to al­ter that de­cision.

“I think it was carved in stone,” he said.

On Fri­day, Stack said he was not ready to give up.

“I have been work­ing to keep these jobs here for months, and I’m not pre­pared to sur­render them now,” he stated in a news re­lease. On Fri­day, he said he was go­ing to ask Corbett to make one last bid to ask Mondelez ex­ec­ut­ives to re­con­sider. 

The plant, which opened in the mid-1950s as a Nabisco bakery, was owned by Kraft un-til late 2012, when Mondelez split off in-to a sep-ar-ate com-pany.

“I think the day that sale was made and the com­pany was split, our plant was on the wrong side of the split,” O’Neill said.

Mondelez had world-wide in-come of $35 bil-li­on. It also makes Triscuits, Chips Ahoy cook-ies, Ritz crack-ers, New-tons, Tang, Tri-dent gum and Cad-bury chocol-ates. 

“The role of the Phil­adelphia bakery with­in the com­pany’s bis­cuit-man­u­fac­tur­ing net­work foot­print has changed over time,” the com­pany said in a Feb. 6 news re­lease. “The site cur­rently pro­duces a lim­ited num­ber of core products. Oth­er fa­cil­it­ies are bet­ter po­si­tioned to sup­port the com­pany’s fu­ture busi­ness needs.”

It was profits over people, state Reps. Kev­in Boyle and Brendan Boyle said in a news re­lease Fri­day.

“We find the ex­plan­a­tion and ra­tionale be­hind the clos­ure of the Mondelez In­ter­na­tion­al plant in­ex­plic­able. While Mondelez asks the pub­lic to be­lieve that they are clos­ing a proven premi­um re­source in or­der to take the next step in in­nov­a­tion and ef­fect­ive­ness, the real­ity couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth. To­geth­er, with state Sen. Mike Stack, we offered to work with Mondelez in or­der to pri­or­it­ize their needs and open up a new and state of the art fact­ory right here in Phil­adelphia. This of­fer in­cluded in­vit­a­tions to tour the re­gion, which nev­er re­ceived a re­sponse. Coupled with the in­cent­ives we were will­ing to provide the work­ing people of North­east Phil­adelphia, through their proven com­mit­ment and work eth­ic, would have taken Mondelez to a whole new level. In­stead, Mondelez held its em­ploy­ees host­age by de­mand­ing cuts to their pay and be­ne­fits.”

In a state­ment re­leased the day the clos­ing was an­nounced, Corbett said his ad­min­is­tra­tion will try to help dis­placed work­ers find jobs. He also said his ad­min­is­tra­tion will de­vel­op a plan to mar­ket the old bakery.

Guzzinati said the uni­on con­tract provides for sev­er­ance.

“We will be meet­ing with the uni­on to en­gage in ne­go­ti­ations over the ef­fects of the clos­ure,” she wrote in an email to the pa­per. “We will not be able to provide any fur­ther in­form­a­tion un­til those ne­go­ti­ations have been con­cluded.”

Laz­ar said there are sev­er­ance pro­vi­sions in the con­tract, but ad­ded uni­on and com­pany rep­res­ent­at­ives will be sit­ting down to dis­cuss those clauses in the next few months. 

Mean­while, Stack said he might not be in­clined to buy the com­pany’s products.

“It there’s a product I like, and I don’t like how the com­pany op­er­ates, I don’t use it,” Stack said. “And I don’t think Mondelez has been fair here.” ••

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