| KANSAS CITY, Mo./NEW YORK
KANSAS CITY, Mo./NEW YORK Nov 21 Enough is
enough, say bakery workers at Hostess Brands Inc.
After several years of costly concessions, the Bakery,
Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM)
authorized a walk-out earlier this month after Hostess received
bankruptcy court approval to implement a wage cut that was not
included in its contract.
With operations stalled, the company that makes Twinkies and
other famous U.S. brands said last week that liquidating its
business was the best way to preserve its dwindling cash. It won
court approval on Wednesday to start winding down in a process
expected to claim 15,000 jobs immediately and over 3,000 more
after about four months. [ID: n L1E8ML3WU]
Interviews with more than a dozen workers showed there was
little sign of regret from employees who voted for the strike.
They said they would rather lose their jobs than put up with
lower wages and poorer benefits.
"They're just taking from us," said Kenneth Johnson, 46, of
Missouri. He said he earned roughly $35,000 with overtime last
year, down from about $45,000 five years ago.
"I really can't afford to not be working, but this is not
worth it. I'd rather go work somewhere else or draw
unemployment," said Johnson, a worker at Hostess for 23 years.
With 18,500 workers, Hostess has 12 different unions
including the B CTGM, which has about 5,600 members on the bread
and snack item production lines, and the International
Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents about 7,500 route
sales representatives, drivers and other employees.
Unlike some non-unionized rivals, the maker of Wonder Bread
and Drake's cakes had to navigate more than 300 labor c ontracts,
with terms that often strained efficiency and competitiveness,
Hostess officials have said. In some extreme cases, contract
provisions required different products to be delivered on
different trucks even when headed to the same place.
Aside from those so-called onerous labor contracts, Hostess
has grappled for some time with rising ingredient costs and a
growing health consciousness that has made its sugary cakes less
popular. It filed for bankruptcy in January, only three years
after emerging from a prior bankruptcy.
Lance Ignon, speaking on behalf of Hostess, said the company
recognized how difficult the past few years had been for workers
and wished it did not have to ask them for more givebacks.
"But the reality was that the company could not survive
without those concessions," Ignon said.
Workers had a laundry list of frustrations, from rising
healthcare costs to decreased wages and delayed pension
benefits. They even cited a $10-per-week per worker charge they
said Hostess claimed was needed to boost company capital.
"They have taken and taken and taken from us," said Debi
White, who has worked at Hostess for 26 years, most recently as
a bun handler at its bread and roll plant in Lenexa, Kansas.
"They have been walking around stomping their foot saying
either you give in ... or else we're going to close you now.
Well, go ahead, we're tired of their threats," she said. "That's
how we feel."
Hostess workers are now scrambling to figure out when their
health insurance runs out -- or if it already has -- and where
and how to apply for job retraining and unemployment benefits.
Following a summer and autumn spent in labor negotiations
trying to find a common path to reorganization, Hostess'
management gained concessions from some unions, including the
The fear of thousands of job losses, for its own members and
other unions, led the Teamsters to plead with the BCTGM t o hold
a secret ballot to determine if bakery workers really wanted to
continue with the strike, even with the th r eat of closure.
Teamsters officials complained that bakery union leaders did
"not substantively look for a solution or engage in the
process," and complained that the BCTGM c a lled for its strike on
Nov. 9 without first notifying the Teamsters.
They said that, unlike the bakery union, the Teamsters voted
to "protect all jobs at Hostess." Teamsters General
Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall said Wednesday's court approval for
liquidation marked "a sad day for thousands of families affected
by the closing of this company."
Bakery union President Frank Hurt has said that any labor
agreements would only be temporary as Hostess was doomed anyway.
The union said new owners were needed to get Hostess back on
track and the only way they would return to work was if Hostess
rescinded its wage and benefit cuts.
"Our membership ... just had no confidence in this
management group being able to run a business," said Conrad
Boos, a BCTGM local business representative in Missouri.
Hurt was not immediately available to comment on Wednesday
but the union said in a court filing its sole objective was to
leave Hostess with "a real, rather than an illusory or
theoretical, likelihood of establishing a stable business with
On Wednesday, Hostess' lawyer Heather Lennox said the
company had received a "flood of inquiries" from potential
buyers for several brands that could be sold at auction, and
expects initial bidders within a few weeks.