News Column

Maine Strikers Ignore Hostess' 5 pm Deadline

Nov 16, 2012

Jessica Hall

Striking workers at the Hostess Brands plant here stayed on the picket line past 5 p.m., ignoring the company's deadline to return to work.

The company had threatened Thursday morning to file liquidation on Friday if workers didn't end their strike, but the striking workers refused to budge.

As 5 p.m. approached, about 150 picketers chanted "Shut it down! Shut it down!" and erupted in cheers as the deadline passed.

As of 5:25 p.m., Hostess had not released an official statement. Throughout the afternoon, however, it continued to shuttle replacement workers in and out of the factory using white sport utility vehicles with tinted windows.

John Jordan, who has worked at the cupcake factory for 26 years and is a business agent with the local bakery union, said the workers had no plans to end their strike.

"There was a 5 p.m. ultimatum, but 5 p.m. means nothing to us," Jordan said. "We'll be here 24-7 until the company is closed or back on its feet."

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which represents about 30 percent of Hostess' 18,000 workers nationally and 500 in Maine, went on strike on Friday evening.

Two dozen bakeries have been on strike or honoring the walkout. Hostess has 26 bakeries nationally, including one in Biddeford.

Hostess, the maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread, filed for bankruptcy in January. In September, 92 percent of the bakery union rejected the contract concessions, which included an immediate 8 percent wage cut. The contract was approved by the Teamsters.

Hostess had said that it would move immediately to liquidate the company if the bakery union did not return to work by 5 p.m. on Thursday. It said it needed enough workers back on the job to resume normal operations.

"I am sure that our members would be agreeable to return to work as soon as the company rescinds the implementation of the horrendous wage and benefit reductions, including pension, and the restoration of the cuts that have already taken place," bakery union president Frank Hurt said.

The company previously said it would not rengotiate the contract, but hadn't commented in recent days.

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.

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

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

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.

Source: (c)2012 Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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