Keep Wonder workers out of bread line: Pol

Next week the Wonder Bread factory in Jamaica will close but a job fair is scheduled the day before the shutdown.
By Ivan Pereira

Next week the doors at the Wonder Bread factory in Jamaica will shut its doors permanently after more than 100 years of operation, but City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said he is not going to let the 200 blue-collar workers get immediately displaced.

The councilman is teaming up with the Greater Jamaica Development Corp. and the city’s Workforce 1 job counseling program and will offer a job fair at the factory, at 168-23 Douglas Ave., next Wednesday. The 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. fair, which so far has 19 companies coming in to offer positions, will take place a day before the 100,000-square-foot facility is shut down.

Comrie said many of the employees live in southeast Queens and have been at the factory for decades.

“We’ve been talking to the workers and we’ve been trying to do what we can so they can work with their skill set,” he said.

In October, Hostess Brands announced that it would close the factory because it was in need of modernization, but the company did not have the money needed for the necessary construction. The Wonder Bread and Hostess goods outlet stores that operate out of the factory will eventually be relocated.

Richard Werber, the director of business service at Greater Jamaica, said he jumped on the opportunity to help coordinate the event because the factory was important to the neighborhood’s economy for so long.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck situation,” he said.

Comrie said the companies that will participate in the job fair are from similar fields that would benefit from experienced factory workers. So far, Elmhurst Dairy, Jamaica-based Bartlett Dairy, catering services from John F. Kennedy International Airport and other bakeries will be on hand next week, according to Comrie.

“Most of them are very active in employing people in these skill sets,” the councilman said of the other companies. “It works for them to get an experienced person who understands the needs of the food industry.”

For the workers whose skills may need fine-tuning or may not meet the criteria for some of the companies’ positions, representatives from Workforce 1, which has a Jamaica office, will also be on-hand.

Counselors and other city employees will help the Wonder Bread workers to find other jobs or retraining services, according to Comrie.

The factory has been a staple in the community since its creation in the 1870s. The Shults Bread Co. originally used the space to produce its goods until it sold the space to William Ward’s United Bakeries in 1921.

The factory was ultimately sold to Hostess’ parent company, Interstate Bakeries Inc., in 1995.

For more information on the job fair, call 718-776-3700.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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