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