Carpenters union representatives protest outside Ferrara Pan on Feb. 23 | Maria Maxham

Updated on March 10 to reflect response from Ferrara Pan

On March 9, union carpenters on the Circle Avenue bridge held signs protesting Ferrara Pan’s business practices, but it wasn’t the first time they’ve made their grievances known. Representatives from the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters have been standing regularly outside Ferrara Pan, 7301 Harrison St., for over two weeks.

One of the signs read, “Shame on Ferrara for making taxpayers look like suckers” with pictures of red and green lollipops on it.

The picketers from the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters are in a dispute with Ferrara Pan over the company’s choice to hire non-union workers at their new DeKalb facility, said Keith Jutkins, vice president of the Chicago council. The Ferrara Pan distribution facility in DeKalb, he said, is receiving tax incentives from the state but is refusing to hire union workers.

The union’s website claims that “Ferrara has taken millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies only to support contractors who pay below the area standard wages and benefits. This hurts our communities and takes money away from our local economies.”

“All we want is a fair shot,” he said. “We want to resolve this issue.”

Ferrara representatives, however, haven’t sat down with the union for a discussion, according to Jutkins.

The union, he said, is also renting space on a billboard off the I-290 expressway at Kedzie letting the public know about the issue.

“We’re showing our point of view through a banner,” Jutkins said.

The Review reached out to Ferrara Pan and received a response on March 9, after this article was originally published.

Sarah Kittel, vice president of corporate affairs at Ferrara and Abbye Lakin, manager of corporate affairs, said what the union shared with the Review “is inaccurate at best.”

“The smear campaign against Ferrara is an attempt to force us to discriminate against, and refuse to do business with, companies whose employees have chosen not to be represented by a union.  That discrimination is wrong, inconsistent with Ferrara’s values, and we will not stand for it,” Kittel and Lakin said in their email.

They further said, “It is evident the union does not want to resolve the matter. They simply are unsatisfied with the outcome of a fair and equitable bidding process that awarded the project in question – and awards all projects – based on the value offered by each bidder; specifically, the price and quality of the proposed work.”

Sometimes, Kittel and Lakin stated, the winning bidder is a union. Other times, non-union employees are used.

“We do not discriminate against bidders based on whether their employees are, or are not, represented by a union.  The best bid wins our contracts,” said the Ferrara Pan representatives, adding that they “enjoy a healthy and productive relationship with three different unions who represent Ferrara employees at various facilities and are proud that the DeKalb distribution complex was built almost entirely with union labor – more than 250,000 man hours or 100 years’ worth of full time employment.”

Additionally, Ferrara Pan disputes Jutkins’ claim that the company has refused to meet with the union, calling it “vehemently false.” A Jan. 27 meeting, they say, included union representatives Phil Manno and Bruce Werning, as well as Ferrara Pan representatives and the DeKalb City Manager, Bill Nicklas.

On March 10, Jutkins reiterated that union employees had offered to meet the non-union rates and forwarded the Review a letter from Russ Woerman, president of KWCC Construction, Inc., to Ferrara Pan on March 4. In the letter, Woerman says, “It is my understanding that the dispute with Ferrara Candy is attributable to the racking work being performed by a non-union contractor at their million square-foot warehouse in DeKalb, Illinois.”

Woerman adds in the letter: “In support of the Union and to establish harmony with Ferrara Candy my company is willing to match the non-union contractor’s price for the installation of the racking at the DeKalb location.”

KWCC, according to its website, “was initially formed as a union carpentry sub-contractor and racking/fixture installer” and “has an international agreement” with carpenters and laborers unions.

When impending construction of the new DeKalb facility was first announced last year in Jan. 2020, a joint press release from Ferrara and the City of DeKalb stated that the new distribution center, projected to be completed in the second quarter of 2021, would be 1.6 million square feet and would create 500 new jobs in the area.

Construction of such a huge facility has raised the question locally of whether the functions of the Ferrara Pan location in Forest Park will be moved to DeKalb.

But Lakin said the rumor that the Forest Park location would close and operations moved to DeKalb isn’t true.

“That information is inaccurate,” Lakin said in an email on Feb. 26. “The new complex in DeKalb is comprised of two distinct facilities – a Distribution Center and a Packaging Center. Our Forest Park location is a manufacturing facility for many of our iconic brands and products.”