Svenhard’s Swedish Bakery lays off drivers starting July 15, contracting with Bimbo Bakeries to take over delivery services

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By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN

EXETER – Svenhard’s pastries have always been sweet, but recent changes in their business model are not so palatable to their drivers. Last month drivers were notified via text from supervisors and formal letters from the company that they were being permanently laid off on July 15. 

Svenhard’s chief operating officer David Kunkel says the company is giving the drivers the opportunity to work for a commensurate wage inside the bakery located in Exeter, or take a job with Bimbo Bakeries who will begin delivering Svenhard’s pastries next month. 

“I negotiated with Bimbo for all of my drivers who want to take the job…I’ve always negotiated for jobs for my drivers since I’ve been doing this,” Kunkel said. 

The Central Valley region is not the only part of Svenhard’s distribution system the company has outsourced. Kunkel says he has outsourced direct store delivery up and down the West Coast. 

Kunkel added the move is likely to save the company on efficiency and dollars as Bimbo drivers work on commission and have an incentive to sell and deliver more product at a faster pace. But word of negotiated jobs had not seemed to reach the company’s current drivers, and there is still a hefty amount of speculation for what happens after July 15.

Jeremy Schwabenland, out of Svenhards Visalia Depot, has worked for Svenhard’s for 12 years as a route driver sales representative handling merchandise, delivery and billing for the accounts he serves. Now he feels as if his soon-to-be-former employer has sold them out to increase their profits. 

“They got the big tax break. I’m sure they did, but we got a pink slip instead,” Schwabenland said. 

To make matters worse Schwabenland battles chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from a partially collapsed lung. But because he was comfortable driving his Exeter, Visalia and Reedley routes, he knew how to get through it. He says that if he joins Bimbo he would have a new route and with it a new set of obstacles. 

Instead of moving into the bakery or working with Bimbo, he said he is likely to take on a different line of work. 

Wayne Nordyke, located at the Fresno branch, says he has been with the company for 16 years. Like Schwabenland, he received a text from his supervisor and an official letter, too. Nordyke says that he and Schwabenland would commiserate over the condition of the trucks they drove, and how often they would break down. 

“We always drove junk trucks. It was a joke between drivers for a long time,” Nordyke said. 

Schwabenland said the fleet was mostly from the 1970s and ’80s, and the company would only invest into them what needed to be done to keep them running. 

But aside from the trucks they will soon be leaving behind, the union contract they have through Teamsters is set to expire in September. Because they are being laid off in July, drivers are questioning whether they will be paid to the end of the contract.

“All that we ask is to honor that contract,” Nordyke said. “We’ve been good employees. We don’t quit. Guys stay with the company until the day they die or retire.”

Teamsters refused to comment on negotiations on behalf of drivers and the state of their contract and severance pay. In terms of severance, Kunkel says he is following the contract to the letter. But when it comes to employment with Bimbo, Kunkel claims Teamsters said employees would get a raise from the move.

“The union told me that every single one of my employees would get a raise…so I don’t know what they are complaining about,” Kunkel said.

Despite Kunkel’s claim, Schwabenland said he would be paid $400 less per week to start out working for Bimbo. And Nordyke has his suspicions that Bimbo would keep Svenhard’s’ former drivers at all after a 90 day probation period, particularly at their current rate of pay from years of service.

“Svenhard’s can’t force Bimbo to hire [their drivers]…I’m not starting at the bottom again. I can’t see myself doing that. It’s too hard,” Nordyke said.

As well there is a lack of specific information from the official letter sent from Svenhard’s human resources department, dated May 14, 2018. The letter does not mention Bimbo Bakery positions, severance or transition to a bakery position. But the letter does affirm the layoffs are permanent as of July 15, there are no “bumping” rights where a more senior member can take over the position of another Svenhard’s bakery driver who has served fewer years, and who they should contact about unemployment services. 

In explaination of his decision Kunkel says outsourcing is a business move to keep the company operating successfully.

“You can’t make everyone happy when you do something like this. But to be successful in business you have to make some changes,” Kunkel said.

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