UPDATE: Hoagie shortage: Amoroso drivers return tonight

Striking unionized drivers picketed Amoroso's bakery, near South 55th Street and Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia, on Monday morning. Drivers will be back at work tonight, Teamsters Local 463 President Bob Ryder said. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)

UPDATE: "We took the picket line down" at Amoroso's West Philly bakery, Teamsters Local 463 President Bob Ryder just told me.

Ryder says drivers will be back to work tonight, pending talks in federal court tomorrow, after Amoroso's sought a federal court injunction barring pickets from stopping trucks. Amoroso's called it an illegal strike since it took place before the labor contract expires next month. But drivers say Amoroso's was laying them off, so they were not subject to the contract's no-strike clause.

Ryder says Amoroso has failed to convince enough drivers to leave the union and become independent contractors, paying their own expenses on hopes of generating more sales and profits. Will Amoroso keep trying? "I don't know what he's going to do," Ryder said. "Bread didn't get out today. We stung him. Now he's (upset.)" 

EARLIER: The job dispute at Amoroso's bakery in West Philly has delayed the daily hoagie and cheesesteak cycle at hundreds of groceries, delis, restaurants, neighborhood shops.

Boss Len Amoroso wants workers to buy their routes and pay their own taxes and benefits. Teamster drivers are resisting and have stopped deliveries as contract negotiations heat up.

Workers at Reen's Delicatessen in Northeast Philadelphia say they've had no Amoroso's delivery this morning, and it's going to be tough to make their daily 1,000-plus sandwiches unless this gets fixed or another supply opens up.

Why would drivers dare to strike, in this tough economy? Because some, at least, are reluctant to embrace Amoroso's plan to make them go deep into debt ($100,000-$300,000) and lose medical and pension benefits, on top of their existing long working days (all-night/half the day). Amoroso says the drivers can earn more than enough to cover higher costs, and he'll buy back routes if drivers are unhappy. More here.

From Len Amoroso's statement on the strike: “The Union leadership chose not to negotiate in good faith with us, intimidated its own members and this morning has ignored a federal injunction with picketers blocking our bakery" at 55th and Baltimore.

"We have asked for concessions from Teamsters Local 463, which represents our 75 drivers, to help us bring their contract in line with the industry and to also help us maintain a competitive cost structure for the business... Unfortunately, Local 463 has not negotiated with us in good faith on this conversion" to independent, nonunion drivers.

"Last Thursday, June 16, they threatened drivers at our facilities in West Philadelphia and Yeadon saying that if the drivers attended a pre-closing meeting we were holding to discuss individuals’ intent to purchase routes, the union would withhold those drivers’ pensions and prevent them from coming to work at Amoroso’s or any other bakery represented by Local 463.  That’s illegal and it’s intimidation... 

"We will not allow Local 463 to hold us hostage.  We expect the legal process to quickly restore our ability to get our breads and rolls to the businesses that rely on Amoroso’s to feed their customers.”

Protesting drivers at Amoroso's bakery in West Philadelphia blocked the company's driveway and stopped deliveries of rolls to grocers, hoagie and cheesesteak shops early today. "We don’t have bread. I'm calling the girl who works this morning and telling her to stay home," the manager of another big Northeast Philly sandwich shops told me. "We’ll try to go to the local bakery."  

Amoroso's bakery owner Len Amoroso tells me his Teamster drivers are waging a "wildcat strike" that has kept rolls off the street at bakeries and stores across the Delaware Valley. "We got an injunction" and will be "issuing a statement" later this morning, Amoroso says.

No immediate comment from Teamsters Local 463, which has opposed Amoroso's attempts to get drivers to buy their routes and set up as independent operators. Union leader Bob Ryder was on site this morning as drivers kept the picket line moving. Amoroso says drivers representing a majority of his routes have agreed to buy in, but union leaders have said only a handful have committed.

The drivers' current contract expires at the end of this month.  Amoroso had in recent weeks agreed to keep some drivers under a modified union contract, in exchange for lower pay.

Century-old Amoroso's may be the city's best-known sandwich-roll brand. But down in South Philly, cheesesteak-makers at Tony Luke's and Geno's told me they use rival Liscio's bread. Chad Vilotti, a co-owner of Glassboro-based Liscio's, tells me orders to his bakery have increased this morning, with Amoroso's off the street. He said he'd called Amoroso "to see if there was anything we can do for them. They're friends." Liscio's uses a mix of employee and independent drivers, he added.