December 22, 2012

After Hostess, a new world

The newly jobless in their 50s are striving to move forward while hoping for the best.

By Gillian Graham
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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"If you don't stand for something, you'll stand for anything," he said, leaning against a kitchen counter in his Saco home after returning from his last union meeting.

Bourgault was at work on Nov. 16 when he got a call from his union business agent asking if he'd be willing to fly to Philadelphia to strike at a Hostess plant there. He was on a plane five hours later with eight others to picket for a week. By then, he knew the end of Hostess was near.

"Anybody with any brains knew exactly what happened was going to happen," he said. "There was no future with these people. Even if we voted for 8 percent (pay cuts), they would have been back for more. Once you start going backwards, unless you put your foot down, you keep going backwards."

Since Hostess received final approval to close, Bourgault has filed for unemployment and started a job search, but he holds out hope that the bakery will be sold to another company.

"I'm not holding my breath that the bakery is going to open again, so you have to move forward," he said.

He spends his days looking for a job, cleaning the house and cooking dinner. Without health insurance and relying on $372 a week in unemployment benefits, Bourgault is trying to figure out how to pay for a tooth extraction and braces for his 12-year-old son Michael.

Bourgault went to an initial meeting recently at the CareerCenter, where he was given information about resources and retraining opportunities available to Army veterans. He knows the first step is learning how to apply for jobs online, but he's not computer savvy. His daughter, Shannon Smith, has had to give him a crash course in computer basics.

"He said 'Start at square one, tell me how to turn this thing on,' " Smith said.

Smith, who lives with her husband and Bourgault in a rented home in a quiet neighborhood, said it was hard to watch her father deal with his sadness and anger at the bakery's closure. But she has no doubt he'll be fine in the long run.

Bourgault is also confident he'll soon find work.

"I'm pretty much open to anything. I'll find something," he said. "I've never not worked." 


Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Bob Prescott was in route sales and had worked for Hostess for 17 years.

Bob Prescott thought he would retire from Hostess. At 58, he'd been working for the company for 17 years. He was in route sales, a position that required early hours -- he started his day between midnight and 3 a.m. -- but he enjoyed it. He grew to know his customers well enough to ask about their children and grandchildren.

"You're pretty much your own boss. Your responsibilities were yours," he said of his position, which required him to order and stock bread at grocery stores. "It was pretty much your own business."

Now he's at a standstill.

Prescott previously worked as a commercial fisherman and in the produce departments at Hannaford and Legion Square Market in South Portland. At Hostess, he was on commission, and was paid $59,000 a year. That was when business was good and before Hostess asked Teamsters for concessions. By the end of his time with the company, he was paid about $43,000 a year. His base pay had dropped by $100 a week and he was paying a portion of his health insurance, which had previously been provided to employees at no cost.

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