Hostess workers blame management
Company closes, ending 18,500 jobs
For many of Hostess Brands' 18,500 workers and their families, the closing of their iconic company Friday is a devastating emotional and economic blow.
But others say the jobs weren't worth saving because of pay and benefit cuts.
For a member of the bakery workers' union whose strike a week ago led Hostess to shut operations, it's a sad day. "It was a great job. A lot of people put kids through college, paid for mortgages," he said.
The worker, who spoke on the condition his name not be used, said he spoke out at the union meeting against going on strike. "I said, 'If you're unhappy with the situation, then you need to quit. There are people with responsibilities and mortgages. We all can't afford to strike,'" said the veteran who worked loading trucks.
Despite the strike, he was at work late Thursday. But soon after he got home, he was called and told to come back to collect his personal items, since the company was being shut down.
The worker said he blames management for the company's financial condition and its closing more than he blames his fellow union members who went on strike. And he's worried about the future.
"I'm 61, I was two years away from retirement," he said. "There aren't many jobs out there for someone like me."
However, other workers said the concessions being demanded by Hostess were just too great.
Mike Hummell, a receiving clerk and a member of the Bakers' union working in Lenexa, Kan., said he was making about $48,000 in 2005 before the company's first trip through bankruptcy. Concessions during that reorganization cut his pay to $34,000 last year, earning $16.12 an hour. He said the latest contract demands would have cut his pay to about $25,000, with significantly higher out-of-pocket expenses for insurance.
"The point is the jobs they're offering us aren't worth saving," he said Friday. "It instantly casts me into poverty. I wouldn't be able to make my house payment. My take-home would be less than unemployment benefits. Being on unemployment while we search for a new job, that's a better choice than working these hours for poverty wages."
While the Bakers' union voted against the concessions and went on strike, the 6,700 members of the Teamsters union narrowly ratified their own concession deal in order to try to keep the company in business. Many of the drivers, who also served as Hostess' primary sales force, were earning more money than the bakers, getting commissions for the products they sold to grocery stores on their routes.
Tracy Fea, the wife of a Teamster working at Hostess, said she's particularly mad at the Bakers' union for the strike.
"While they [Teamsters at Hostess] were not at all happy about the additional concessions, they did not want to lose their jobs," she said. "My husband and I feel that if these employees [Bakers] were so unhappy with their jobs and with Hostess, then they should have quit so the company could continue on and the remaining employees that want to work could."
But Joe Lannan, a Teamster based in Kentucky, said he understands the bakers who walked out. He said he voted against the contract and would have struck if the vote had gone that way.
He said the split among Teamsters was between more senior workers and the newer drivers, such as himself. He's been at Hostess about a year.
"There were a lot of nervous guys, mostly with more senior drivers. I've seen a lot of teary eyes," he said.
But he's hopeful that a lot of the drivers will be able to find jobs due to the demand for truck drivers overall.
"The company has been in decline for years. There was no way it was going to get fixed," he said. "Everybody I worked with was looking for other jobs anyway."
Because of his commercial driver's license, Lannan was lucky enough to quickly find a new job, getting a call with a job offer as a fuel truck driver Friday afternoon.
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