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Baking employees’ strike continues over benefit cuts


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Richard Hunt, a shipping clerk at Dolly Madison, walks the picket line along U.S. Highway 31 on the north side of the plant in Columbus, Indiana Monday November 12, 2012(Joe Harpring | The Republic)
Richard Hunt, a shipping clerk at Dolly Madison, walks the picket line along U.S. Highway 31 on the north side of the plant in Columbus, Indiana Monday November 12, 2012(Joe Harpring | The Republic)

Bill Moats warm himself at a fire on the picket line by striking workers at Dolly Madison at the north entrance to the plant on U.S. Highway 31, Monday November 12, 2012. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
Bill Moats warm himself at a fire on the picket line by striking workers at Dolly Madison at the north entrance to the plant on U.S. Highway 31, Monday November 12, 2012. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)


Unionized Dolly Madison employees braved icy winds and rain Monday during their third full day of strikes at the Columbus production plant on National Road.

Employees at striking sites nationwide, upset especially over cuts to their pensions, said they hoped their actions would bring the company back to the negotiating table — or would force the current owners to sell the company to a buyer that would honor the previous pension agreement.

However, a spokesman for Twinkies maker Hostess Brands, which owns the local Dolly Madison plant, said Monday that a continued strike in all likelihood would close the bakeries for good and eliminate about 18,500 jobs nationwide, including more than 200 in Columbus.

Monday afternoon, the company said that as a result of the strike, it would permanently close bakeries in Seattle, St. Louis and Cincinnati, eliminating 627 jobs.

“We deeply regret this decision, but we have repeatedly explained that we will close facilities that are no longer able to produce and deliver products because of a work stoppage — and that we will close the entire company if widespread strikes cripple our business,” Hostess Brands Chief Executive Officer Gregory F. Rayburn said in a news release.

Hostess is trying to emerge from bankruptcy for the second time in a decade. The company is privately held and does not generally disclose sales and profit figures. But according to documents provided to union workers in Columbus, the company lost $330 million last year

Wearing rain gear, thick jackets and gloves, about 20 members of Local 132 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, formed a picket line around noon Monday along National Road, holding signs that read “Local 132 on strike,” eliciting honks from passing motorists.

Strikers occasionally knelt near an elevated fire pit to warm their hands or ducked into a tent, erected Sunday night to provide some protection against the rain. Morning temperatures in the 30s even brought a few snowflakes mixed with the rain. Afternoon sunshine Monday raised temperatures into the 40s.

Darren Sipes of Seymour, who has worked at the local plant for 20 years, said the community has shown great support, dropping off water, hot coffee, donuts and dry firewood.

Anthony Young, 49, who lives near Hope, said he was striking primarily to protest the changes to pensions.

Young, who makes donuts and has worked at the local plant for 30 years, said he was less than a year away from full retirement benefits when the company changed the rules.

Young said under the “Golden 80” rule, employees can collect full pension benefits if their age and years of service equals at least 80.

Now, Young said, instead of retiring next year, he’ll have to work another 15 years to get full benefits.

“I’ll be looking for a job by the end of the week if it’s not resolved,” he said.

Scott Shuler, who also has worked at the plant for 30 years, as a utility worker in the shipping department, said he was striking primarily to support his co-workers.

He said he already has reached his “Golden 80.”

“Hopefully,” he added with a laugh.

“I’m hoping they can get us a better contract so we can get back to work and support our families,” he said.

Cindy Reynolds, 56, of Columbus, said she hopes another company will buy the operation and honor the previous pension agreement.

“I was willing to take a cut in pay,” she said.

The cuts to pension benefits, however, are unacceptable, she said.

Reynolds worked for Hills department stores for 21 years without pension benefits before joining Dolly Madison. For 17 years she has worked at the plant, she said, and now that she is four years away from getting her pension, the company wants to take it away.

Vickey Gutana, who has worked at the plant for 27 years, said she was 100 hours away from her “Golden 80” when the company stopped paying into the pension fund.

“I’m hoping that they give us our pension back,” she said.

However, company spokesman Lance Ignon said that striking employees are under the false impression that the company can be pressured into returning to the negotiating table.

“Negotiations ended in August,” Ignon said Monday.

Of the company’s 36 plants with bakery union employees, 23 have been affected by the strike, Ignon said. All, including the Columbus plant, are continuing production — though some at markedly reduced rates — because managers have stepped in and because enough employees, including bakeries and Teamsters union members, are crossing picket lines.

“If strike activity prevents any given facility from making or delivering product, it will be permanently closed,” Ignon said.”

If the strike affects the whole company, the owners said they will close all plants and sell the assets.

“We’ll have no choice,” Ignon said. “Our lenders will stop financing the company, and we assume that our customers also will no longer order from the company.”

Ignon also said that no other company is going to take over Hostess facilities and continue production with better pay and benefits.

“The industry has too much baking capacity already,” Ignon said.

If the plants are closed, he said, there’s a reasonable chance “that they will never reopen as bakeries.”

Hostess timeline

1948

Sap Essex opens a bakery on Fifth and Washington streets.

1960

Company growth forced a move to a newly constructed plant on National Road.

1972

Sap’s Foods merged with Beatrice Foods.

1979

Interstate Brands Inc. purchased Beatrice Foods.

1979

Interstate Brands changes the name of Sap’s Donuts to Dolly Madison.

1980

Total employment reached 260 in the Columbus plant.

1986

Employment hits 580, making it the seventh largest employer in Columbus.

2004

Interstate Bakeries Corp. declares bankruptcy, but company officials say production at Columbus operation would not be affected.

2009

Interstate Bakeries moves its headquarters to Irving, Texas, and becomes Hostess Brands. Hostess emerges from bankruptcy.

Sept. 7

Local Dolly Madison employees reject a new contract proposal calling for wage cuts and changes to health and pension benefits.

Sept. 14

Teamsters union members working for the parent company of the Columbus Dolly Madison plant narrowly approve a new contract.

September/October

At the company’s requests, a judge imposes the new Hostess contract on the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, including Local 132 in Columbus.

Nov. 9

The bakeries union, including Local 132 in Columbus, begins to strike in an effort to force the company back to the negotiating table or force the company to sell its plants to a owner that will honor the previous contract.

Nov. 12

As the bakeries union continues its strike, Hostess Brands announces that as a result of the strike it will close bakeries in Seattle, St. Louis and Cincinnati, eliminating 627 jobs.

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