Amoroso's trucks rolling again but labor fight continues

Amoroso drivers, including Bill Saggiomo (right) were on the picket line during a wildcat strike at the West Philadelphia plantthat started Sunday night. By 11:30 a.m. Monday, the pickets were gone, and the battle had moved to state court.
Amoroso drivers, including Bill Saggiomo (right) were on the picket line during a wildcat strike at the West Philadelphia plantthat started Sunday night. By 11:30 a.m. Monday, the pickets were gone, and the battle had moved to state court. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 21, 2011

Owners of grocery stores and hoagie and cheesesteak shops can expect to receive their Amoroso rolls Tuesday morning, as a federal injunction remains in force until a hearing set for Thursday.

There had been a scramble to find rolls Monday after protesting drivers blocked the Amoroso's driveway and stopped deliveries.

"For us, it's a pain in the neck," said Richard Phelps, owner of Chubby's in Philadelphia's Roxborough neighborhood. "I had to scramble to get rolls from another source."

The dispute between Amoroso's Baking Co. and its drivers stems from a plan by company president Len Amoroso to change the drivers' status from that of employees to independent contractors.

The drivers expected to be laid off Sunday if they did not agree to buy their routes from the company, Bob Ryder, who heads the drivers' union, Teamsters Local 463, said Monday. The company had filed a WARN notice with the state in April, saying it would lay off 90 people on Sunday.

Amoroso's lawyer, Vincent Pentima, said Monday that employees had received letters saying that the date had been pushed back to June 27.

Picketing began about 10:30 p.m. Sunday, which is when drivers typically arrive at the West Philadelphia bakery to begin their routes for morning deliveries.

Drivers were outside the gate all night. Earlier, the company had obtained a federal injunction requiring the drivers to let trucks in and out of the bakery's gates. By 11:30 a.m. Monday, the pickets were gone, and the battle had moved to state court, where the company sought another injunction.

Common Pleas Court Judge Idee Fox deferred to the federal court, Pentima said.

According to the union, most drivers oppose being independent contractors. The company says the opposite.

Having drivers buy their routes is the norm in the industry, Len Amoroso said.

It has been a workplace trend for companies to try to turn their employees into independent contractors. The result has been massive litigation, as workers challenge these arrangements, saying that they are de facto employees and are not being paid properly, particularly for overtime.

Amoroso's plan valued a typical route at 12 times weekly sales, or $114,588, but would have given employees the chance to purchase a route for $87,588, with $8,758 down.

Drivers, who now work six days a week, would have had to spend about $7,500 for the baked goods and $1,200 a week to buy the distributorship, lease the vehicle, hire vacation and Sunday help, and pay for gas, repairs, advertising, a computer system, and marketing discounts given to customers.

The company estimated that drivers would ultimately net $1,777 before taxes from expanded weekly sales of $10,313, but would have to pay for their own health insurance.

On Monday, sandwich-shop owners did what they could to cope.

In Roxborough, three cheesesteak emporiums compete within one block of each other on Henry Avenue. All three use Amoroso's rolls.

Dalessandro's Steaks got a delivery from Amoroso's. Chubby's and Fiesta Pizza II turned to its rivals.

Fiesta got its rolls from Liscio's in Glassboro, one of Amoroso's biggest competitors and the preferred roll of cheesesteak makers Tony Luke and Geno's in South Philadelphia.

At Chubby's, Phelps said he understands how the independent-contractors situation would be a gamble for both sides: Drivers have to take on all the risks Amoroso now bears, but Amoroso also has something to lose.

"If service is less than stellar, guys like me are going to have to look elsewhere," he said. "Amoroso's makes a great product, but if you can't get it, it doesn't matter how great the product is."


Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

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