Some of Hostess Brands’ bakers in Biddeford say the company has gone into their bank accounts and withdrawn vacation pay they received in advance.
Raymond Nadeau, who has worked at the Hostess plant for 14 years, said he began a week’s vacation on Saturday. The company made a direct deposit of his vacation pay into his bank account, but on Tuesday he checked his account online and found that Hostess had reversed the deposit and withdrawn the $573.
“This is Thanksgiving, and they’re giving us our money due and then they’re taking it back. That’s criminal,” said Nadeau, one of about 325 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers union who went on strike this month after receiving the company’s latest contract proposal, which included an immediate 8 percent wage cut.
Over the past year, the company stopped payments to union pension plans and sought cuts of as much as 32 percent in wages and benefits.
“It’s one thing to lose your pension and stuff,” Nadeau said, “and now they’re taking back the vacation pay that they’ve already put into our accounts.”
When he contacted the company’s human resources department to ask about the reversed deposit, Nadeau said, he was told, “There’s nothing you can do about it.”
Hostess Brands received approval from a federal bankruptcy court Wednesday to terminate thousands of employees and begin the process of selling off assets and going out of business.
Lance Ignon, a spokesman for Hostess Brands, said union contracts allowed workers to get vacation pay in advance but Nadeau and others should not have received that pay, given the strike and the company’s plans to cease operations on Nov. 16.
A judge told the company last week to negotiate with the union in a last-ditch attempt to avoid liquidation, but the company said Tuesday that the mediation effort was unsuccessful.
That meant anyone who received advance vacation pay was “inadvertently paid,” Ignon said. “They can’t get paid for vacation time when they are no longer employed.”
When asked if Nadeau technically was employed until Wednesday, when the judge approved the mass layoffs, Ignon said he wouldn’t comment on cases involving individual employees.
John Jordan, business agent for the bakers union’s local in Biddeford, said at least five or six workers are in situations similar to Nadeau’s and he’s trying to gather information on any others.
“It’s hard to fathom a company stooping that low,” Jordan said of the company reversing deposits.
“It does not appear to be legal. However, Hostess has been stalling me,” he said.
Jordan said workers who are taking vacation time now actually earned it in 2011.
He said he lodged a complaint with the Maine Department of Labor, but a spokeswoman said the department believes the workers are not allowed to take vacation time now.
“There wouldn’t be any work to take a vacation from,” said Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman for the department.
Rabinowitz said the workers would be entitled to payments for vacation time they earned in 2011 but did not take this year, as well as vacation credits earned this year. But the union will have to file documentation to include workers as creditors in Hostess’ bankruptcy proceeding, she said.
That means it could be months or longer before workers find out whether they will recoup any of that money.
Jordan said the controversy over vacation pay is another example of why the union’s workers would rather see Hostess Brands go out of business and take their chances that another company will buy the plant in Biddeford and rehire some of the workers.
“The membership does not want to work for a company that steals from them,” he said.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: