Friday, November 16, 2012

Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake, Baker's Man....

Anyone remember the pure pleasure of sinking your teeth into a lighter-than- air Hostess Twinkie snack cake or creamy chocolate Hostess cup cake with the little white squiggle of icing on top and your tongue lavishing on the rich hidden filling inside.  Or how about the pink, coconuty sponginess of a "Snowball"? Forget calories.  Forget cholesterol.  These were just devilishly sinful delights.

Well, better go stock up this next week because Hostess Brands, Inc., also known as Interstate Bakeries, the company who has brought you not only Twinkies but Wonder Bread, Nature's Pride and Dolly Madison products since 1930, is shuttin' it down! 

Hostess Brands filed for bankruptcy back in January, citing the rising cost of labor and pension funding as the principle reason for their financial woes.  As a part of the court-supervised restructuring, Hostess bargained with their two largest unions, the Teamsters and Bakers/Confectionary/Tobacco Workers, to gain concessions which would keep the company afloat.  Their final offer did include some wage (8 % cut), benefit and work rule concessions but it also gave the twelve unions a 25 % ownership stake in the company, $ 100 million in reorganized debt AND representation on the Board of Directors.  The Teamsters approved the offer by a narrow margin but the Bakers decided that dough wouldn't rise.  They voted "No".

The bankruptcy judge decided the offer was a good one and gave Hostess management the authority to implement the contract anyway.  The bakers went on strike crippling the operations at 33 of their plants nationwide and bringing production to a virtual standstill at less than 50 % of capacity.  Management threatened that if the bakers did not return to work by yesterday at 5:00PM they would be forced to cease operations.  The bakers thought management was bluffing and refused.  Oopps!

Today Hostess announced the layoff of all 18,500 of its workers, keeping a skeleton force of 3,200 for several months to "wind it down".  A year from now only 50 workers will remain of this once thriving 82-year old company. 

Now, I am not anti-union.  Honestly.  I do not always take the side of management in these confrontations.  And I am certain there was a degree of mis-management even at Hostess.  Forget I grew up on Wonder Bread ("Builds strong bodies twelve ways").  Forget I went to school for years with a Twinkie in my lunch box.  But, for nearly 20,000 workers to ignore a court order to return to work and give up their jobs in this economic environment?  Seriously?

There is something wrong with an organization of workers whose leaders so mis-read the handwriting on the wall that they allow nearly 20,ooo jobs to evaporate, never to return.  This is unionization out of control and at its worst.  Let's hope there are 20,000 donut shops who need bakers to take up the slack.  Frankly, I would not give that scenario a  "Snowball's" chance in Hell.


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