Livonia— One of Metro Detroit's most iconic bakeries could soon be history after production workers on Wednesday voted down a contract proposal for the second time this week.
About 150 union workers at the 102-year-old Awrey Bakeries Inc. here rejected a take-it-or-leave-it offer by a 73-63 vote, said Brian Corrigan, steward for the United Distributive Workers Union, Council 30.
Workers were told not to show up for work today. But it is not clear if the rejected proposal spells the end for Livonia-based Awrey, which is known for its cakes, cheesecakes, fruit squares and gourmet specialty desserts.
The bakery and union are at odds over a proposal that would cut employee pay by $2 an hour, lay off 26 workers and consolidate two work shifts into one.
The union previously rejected the offer Sunday by six votes, said Vaughn Oliver, a 14-year employee of Awrey.
"Everybody has been working hard," Oliver said. "The management has just run the company into the ground."
A call left for Awrey officials wasn't returned Wednesday.
Workers were told in advance that a contract rejection meant Awrey would shut down, though the same ultimatum was given prior to Sunday's vote.
The company has not said publicly whether the Awrey name would die or if production would move to a 58,000-square-foot Atkins Elegant Desserts facility in Noblesville, Ind., that Awrey acquired in 2009 in hopes of expanding the brand's presence nationally.
Indiana became a right-to-work state earlier this year, allowing workers to avoid paying union dues but still receive the benefits of union-negotiated contracts.
The 215,000-square-foot facility in Livonia had about 330 employees in 2009, according to Awrey's website. The other 180 employees are salaried.
Even if the union had approved the deal, the company planned to cut 26 union members, including Paul Irwin, a five-year employee.
"They are going backwards," Irwin said about Awrey. "Management put this company in the hole."
Irwin said he rejected the contract proposal, voting for the many workers with 20 or more years of service.
One of those workers, when asked about the vote, said he would rather see Awrey close because he would make more money collecting unemployment benefits. He declined to be named.
Multiple workers said bakery orders went unfilled because of ingredient shortages, while other baked goods were scrapped and machines were left in disrepair.
Workers also expressed outrage because they said last year the union and Awrey agreed to a six-year contract.
The company has a history of labor strife. Awrey shut its 70 local bakeries — the last one in Detroit closed in 1980 — because sales slowed and unionized clerical labor became too costly. Instead, it moved its sales to supermarkets.
And the company stopped bakery production during a 10-day Teamster delivery driver strike in 1965 that affected 1,300 bakers and retail clerks.
It is the second time in seven years the workers have faced a $2-an-hour pay cut. The last time was in 2005 after Awrey filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Awrey was founded in 1910 by Fletcher and Elizabeth Awrey on Tireman near West Grand Boulevard in Detroit. At one time, it grew into one of the country's largest family-owned bakeries.
In the late 1960s, Awrey aspired to compete with Sara Lee and other firms in the retail frozen baked goods business. It built a new factory in Livonia. The company then moved its headquarters to Livonia in the 1970s.
But the company blundered in May 1991 when it decided to stop selling fresh-baked goods in local stores and instead focus solely on making frozen products to sell to hotels and hospitals. By November, Awrey reversed course because it wasn't making up for lost store sales.
Awrey has faced stiff competition over the years from Entenmann's Inc., a part of Bimbo Bakeries USA that includes the Arnold and Thomas brands.
Awrey in 2005 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after losing a major client and racking up $29.2 million in debt.
That same year, the New York-based investment firm Monomoy Capital Partners, in partnership with Illinois-based Hilco Equity Management, purchased Awrey out of bankruptcy.
Hilco is the majority owner of Awrey. Both Hilco and Monomoy had no comment Wednesday.