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Working In These Times

Thursday, Sep 16, 2010, 9:02 am

Sweet: Bakers’ Union Pushes Back Against Corporate Greed

BY Lindsay Beyerstein

(Image by Lindsay Beyerstein/SignGenerator.org)

If you've ever received one of those chalky candy hearts emblazoned with "Be Mine" or "Tweet Me," you can thank the unionized workers at NECCO Sweets, the nation's oldest multi-line candy manufacturer. (Other NECCO products include NECCO Wafers, Clark Bars and Sweethearts—here's a photo essay on the making of the candy hearts.)

On Wednesday, members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTWGM) union rallied outside the headquarters of American Capital (AC) in Washington, D.C. during its annual shareholders' meeting to protest the company's potentially job-killing profligacy. To sweeten the deal, the Baker's union declared the action "BYOP"—bring your own pastries.

When AC bought NECCO, founded in 1847, in 2007, AC sunk only $100,000 into the company while saddling it with nearly $10 million in debt. BCTGM and the AFL-CIO believe that this amount of debt is unsustainable and threatens the livelihood of many NECCO workers.

In 2008, NECCO shuttered its Pewaukee, Wisc., plant in an attempt to save money by consolidating operations, at a cost of 137 jobs.

Inside the shareholders' meeting, BCTGM Secretary-Treasurer David Durkee delivered a letter from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to the chairman and CEO of American Capital.

In the letter, Trumka argues that AC has borrowed too much money at exorbitant rates and workers will pay the price if the company doesn't get back on a solid financial footing. He writes:

I strongly urge you to develop a new approach to financing American Capital's portfolio companies that will strengthen, not weaken, our country's economy. Highly leveraged capital structures that strain companies financially are especially counterproductive in these uncertain economic times. Debt should be used prudently as a supplement to a solid equity base, not as an alternative to it in the form of junk bonds with exorbitant interest rates. What was once common business sense needs to become so again.

The company does not appear to have publicly responded to Trumka's letter.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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