Unionized Dolly Madison employees in Columbus on Friday joined a nationwide strike of their union against lower pay and higher benefit costs that their employer, Twinkies maker Hostess Brands, imposed upon them through bankruptcy court.
A company spokesman said a strike could force the company leadership to close all plants for good and put 18,500 employees out of work, including more than 200 in Columbus.
Larry Duncan, business agent for Local 132 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, said Friday that all of the 160 union members at the Columbus plant have joined in the strike, which began about 6:30 p.m. Friday.
Duncan, a shipping
department worker, said all of the bakery unions’ 37 plants within the Hostess company were striking together.
He said union members are upset about the company forcing upon them a contract that they had rejected in September with an overwhelming majority. Other Hostess unions, including the Teamsters, had narrowly approved the new contract.
The contract, which is being imposed on bakery union members this month, includes an 8 percent pay cut, higher insurance benefit costs and a smaller pension contribution from the company, Duncan said.
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
Hostess spokesman Lance Ignon said Friday that if the company cannot produce or deliver product, company leaders will shut down all plants, eliminate the jobs and sell the assets.
“That is something we are trying very hard to avoid,” Ignon said. “We are urging our employees to remain on the job.”
Ignon said he did not know exactly how long the employees would have to strike for liquidation to be triggered, but he said it could be a matter of days.
He also said that the company realizes that the concessions by employees are difficult, but that employees who cannot live with the new contract should seek employment elsewhere rather than strike and risk eliminating the jobs of their many co-workers who have approved the contract.
Hostess has a potentially great future, Ignon said, and the new contract will allow the company to invest in its fleet, plants, products and advertising and build upon a strong brand, which includes products such as Ho Hos, Ding Dongs and Twinkies.
Meanwhile, Duncan said, the local union will have between six and 20 members at the Dolly Madison bakery in Columbus around the clock.
“We’ll have a picket line. There’s going to be somebody there until it’s done,” he said.