A strike by five workers at Al Cohen’s Bakery is in its 10th week.
The workers, represented by Local 36G of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers International Union, began their walkout June 6. The Al Cohen facility at 1132 Broadway in Buffalo makes frozen dough products that are shipped to end users including supermarkets and pizzerias.
A major sticking point involves the workers’ pension plan. Tom Bingler, representative for Local 36G, contended Al Cohen’s wants to withdraw from the union’s pension plan and stop contributing to it.
Mark DiDomenico, one of the company’s owners, said Al Cohen’s did not take a firm stance on whether to remain in Bakery and Confectionery union’s pension fund.
However, he said he was told the company owed “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to help make the fund whole, on top of the contributions Al Cohen’s has made for its employees.
DiDomenico said the company should not have to shoulder that obligation and that the union instead should solve the problem.
“They made a mess of it,” he said.
The pension fund figured into the high-profile woes of Hostess Brands. Hostess stopped making contributions to the national pension fund in 2011, when it was 72 percent funded. The bankrupt company shut down in 2012: Hostess blamed a strike by the Bakery and Confectionery union, while the union said the shutdown was due to years of mismanagement and that workers had made steep concessions over the years.
Al Cohen’s also proposed no longer offering its unionized workers a health care package. The workers currently contribute about 35 percent to the cost of their health care.
“There’s no reason for them to take things away; that’s the big thing,” Bingler said.
Al Cohen’s offered a seven-year contract with a 1 percent raise each year. But Bingler said that would “keep the employee’s average wage below industry standards.”
Bingler says Al Cohen’s does not want its workers covered by a union contract; DiDomenico denied that and said his company had years of good labor relations until the current contract negotiations. Al Cohen’s was owned and operated for decades by members of the Cohen family. DiDomenico and John Blando bought the business in 1994.
DiDomenico said other workers at Al Cohen’s are filling the gap left by the striking workers.
Bingler said the workers were planning to meet with a federal mediator Wednesday, to see about making modifications to the last contract proposal that could be brought to the company.
“I don’t see anything happening that’s going to change,” DiDomenico said of the dispute. “Every day we come to work and take care of our business, and our business is fine.”