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Strike at bakery imperils Philly's cheesesteaks

The foundation of Philadelphia's signature sandwich was harder to come by on Monday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The foundation of Philadelphia's signature sandwich was harder to come by on Monday.

Drivers for a nearly century-old bakery that supplies sandwich rolls for many Philadelphia-area cheesesteak joints and delis went on strike Monday in a dispute over the company's efforts to make them independent distributors.

Teamsters picketed outside Amoroso's bakery in west Philadelphia, saying they would be forced to buy their routes and pay their own vehicle and health care costs if the company gets its way. The picket line came down around midday after federal marshals arrived at the bakery to serve a federal injunction enforcing a no-strike clause in the workers' contract, said Christine Reimert, a company spokeswoman. Drivers were expected to be back at work Monday night, Reimert said.

Amoroso's Baking Co. supplies rolls and bread to numerous delis, grocery store chains, convenience stores and restaurants, including Jim's Steaks on tourist haven South Street.

The union voted 48-3 on Saturday to go on strike over the company's efforts to turn its approximately 75 drivers from Amoroso employees into independent distributors who would own their routes, said Bob Ryder, secretary treasurer for Teamsters Local 467.

"It's hard on a lot of people. There's a group of guys that are ready to retire," Ryder said. "They're not independent contractors. They work for him. Their trucks say Amoroso's on them."

Company attorneys were also working Monday to get an injunction in state court, Reimert said. The union was waiting to see how things play out in court, Ryder said, but drivers would return to work if there's no picket line.

In a statement, the company said it was developing the proposal in a way that would keep the drivers whole, provide needed savings for the company and give drivers the opportunity to grow their businesses by carrying other product lines in addition to Amoroso's.

"This model of moving from company employees to independent, entrepreneurial distributorships is a proven model, and one that is used by the majority of companies in our industry," said Leonard Amoroso Jr., the company's president & CEO. "It is nothing new. And in this economic environment, it's rare to be able to offer business opportunities to individuals. I believed this could be a win for both our drivers and for the company."

A recording on the company's answering machine called the strike an "illegal action" and told customers it would not be able to deliver products on Monday, but planned to be back to the regular schedule on Tuesday.

At Jim's Steaks on South Street, general manager Elie Rosenblatt said he had enough rolls to last a day or two, including some that he keeps in a freezer. But starting Tuesday, if the strike is not resolved, he said he would have to start going elsewhere to look for fresh rolls.

"We are going to have to go out and look for rolls," Rosenblatt said, adding that he'd already been approached by other bakeries, especially since his shop is so well-known. "Tomorrow, we're going to have to scramble for rolls."