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Hostess issues strike ultimatum


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A sign at Columbus' Hostess Brands facility advertises positions Friday afternoon.
FILE PHOTO
A sign at Columbus' Hostess Brands facility advertises positions Friday afternoon. FILE PHOTO


Twinkies maker Hostess has given striking workers an ultimatum.

“If sufficient employees do not return to work by 5 p.m. (today) to restore normal operations, we will be forced to immediately move to liquidate the entire company, which will result in the loss of nearly 18,000 jobs,” Gregory F. Rayburn, Hostess chairman and chief executive officer, said Wednesday in a press release.

The company said it lacks the financial resources to survive an ongoing national strike.

If enough workers do not return, Hostess said it would file paperwork with the bankruptcy court on Friday to initiate the liquidation and that the closing of plants could begin as early as Tuesday.

HOSTESS TIMELINE

January 2012

Hostess files for bankruptcy for the second time in eight years.

Sept. 7

Local Dolly Madison employees reject a new contract proposal calling for wage cuts and changes to health and pension benefits, despite the CEO calling it the last, best offer.

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. Cuts to wages and benefits take effect.

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 new owner that will honor the previous contract.

Nov. 12

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

Nov. 14

Hostess issues ultimatum: If normal operations can’t be restored by 5 p.m. Nov. 15, the company will close.

The company employs more than 200 at the Dolly Madison plant in Columbus, on U.S. 31 just east of Central Avenue.

Members of Local 132 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union have been striking around the clock in Columbus since about 6:30 p.m. Friday. Bakers union members nationwide are protesting a new contract, which includes an 8 percent pay cut, higher health insurance costs and reduced pensions.

Larry Duncan, business agent for Local 132, said Wednesday that local union members would continue to strike regardless of the company’s threats. “We’ll take our chances with a new buyer,” he said.

Local production is continuing, Duncan said, because management is doing some production work and because the company has hired temporary workers. A company spokesman told The Republic on Wednesday that the company has hired few temporary workers but has continued production primarily by reassigning employees.

Duncan said support for the union has been overwhelming, thanking Columbus residents who have dropped off refreshments and food, including sandwiches and

tenderloins.

Picketers have braved cold temperatures and rain this week, sometimes huddling in a tent or around fire pits.

The bakeries union in September had rejected the new offer — although other Hostess unions, including the Teamsters, had approved it. Upon a request by the company, a judge imposed the new contract on the bakeries union, prompting the strike.

Strikes are occurring at about 20 of 37 sites, Hostess said, and production at about half of the affected facilities has been severely reduced.

Hostess, which also makes Ho Hos and Ding Dongs, is trying to emerge from bankruptcy for the second time in a decade. Hostess 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.

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

However, the bakeries union said in a news release Tuesday that the closing of the three plants was merely “a desperate attempt to break the (members’) solidarity.”

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