November 15, 2012

Hostess sets Thursday deadline for strikers to return to work

Otherwise, the company plans to file a motion Friday to liquidate its assets, which could cost the jobs of 18,000 workers, 500 of them in Maine.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — Hostess Brands said Wednesday that it would file a motion in bankruptcy court Friday seeking to liquidate the company if striking workers do not return to their jobs by Thursday.

click image to enlarge

Union employees picket Tuesday outside the Hostess Brands plant in Biddeford to protest cuts in wages and benefits. The workers went on strike Friday evening after the last loaf of bread was wrapped.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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Jerry Leighton, a maintenance mechanic at Hostess Brands for 10 years, hopes the company shuts down and someone else takes over.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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The maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread employs about 18,000 nationally and 500 in Maine, all of whom would lose their jobs if the company is liquidated, CNN reported Wednesday.

The company said in an email that it is setting a deadline of 5 p.m Thursday for striking bakery workers to return to work. The company said it does not have the financial resources to endure a national strike.

Members of the bakery union, which represents about 30 percent of Hostess’s national work force, went on strike last Friday. The Hostess plant in Biddeford was one of 12 plants nationally that went on strike, and another 13 plants honored the strike and walked off the job. Hostess has 36 bakeries across the country.

Members of the bakery union striking in Biddeford could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

Hostess requested a hearing on the motion to liquidate the company on Nov. 19. If approved, Hostess said it will begin to close its facilities as early as Nov. 20.

Hostess filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January – its second bankruptcy in a decade. In September, contract concessions were approved by the Teamsters union, which covers delivery drivers, but the bakery union voted overwhelmingly against the proposal.

The concessions, which affect both the bakery union and Teamsters, call for cuts in wages and benefits of 27 percent to 32 percent over a five-year contract, with an immediate wage cut of 8 percent, the bakery union has said.

The Biddeford plant makes chocolate cupcakes, Sno Balls and other treats and bread products. The plant employs 370 workers, about 300 of which are represented by the bakery union.

Since the strike began Friday, Hostess has been trying to operate with managers and some replacement workers.

In Biddeford, Hostess hired two replacement workers and on Wednesday contacted a local staffing agency in an effort to hire 25 temporary workers. It also has been working with independent trucking companies to get supplies and deliver products.

Rock Coast Personnel, a temporary staffing firm in Portland, said Hostess had contacted them seeking to hire 25 workers for an indefinite period, said Bill DiGiulio, operations manager for Rock Coast. The firm turned down the assignment.

“The economy’s tough enough right now. We don’t support breaking the union,” DiGiulio said. “We also have clients this could be an affront to, so we turned this down.”

Hostess said Monday that it was closing bakeries in Seattle, St. Louis and Cincinnati employing 627 because of the strike, The Associated Press reported.

Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@mainetoday.com

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