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Union member strength & solidarity define Hostess strike

Posted by BCTGM on December 13, 2012
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Once upon a time there was a company. It had happy workers and was profitable for years – an American icon, some would say. But that fairytale ended long ago.

One fact is clear: when BCTGM members employed by Hostess Brands across the country began to strike or honor picket lines on November 9, their fight was about more than disgruntled workers upset with the company’s contract offer.

It was about workers who had already taken concessions multiple times within a decade. It was about workers who watched the company save tens of millions of dollars by ignoring the collective bargaining agreement and stopping contributions to their pension plan. It was about workers who witnessed a string of CEO’s with no baking experience further degrade the company and its brands. It was about workers who couldn’t understand how corporate executives could grant themselves millions of dollars in raises, while asking its union employees to take dramatic pay-cuts and accept more plant closings. It was about workers who had dedicated their working lives to producing some of America’s most loved breads and sweets watch helplessly as the company was run into the ground, over and over again. And it was about workers who were finally finished dealing with the shenanigans of private equity companies and hedge funds that promised the world (for a price), but delivered nothing.

When Hostess workers across the United States voted earlier in the year to reject the company’s last, best, and final offer by more than 92 percent, it sent a clear message to Hostess management that they did not believe that yet another round of concessions could save the company. Meanwhile, independent financial analysts agreed, concluding that Hostess could not sustain itself with its heavy debt load.

The simple truth of what happened to Hostess Brands is best described by LATimes reporter Michael Hiltzik who wrote on November 25, “It failed because the people that ran it had no idea what they were doing. Every other excuse is just an attempt by the guilty to blame someone else.”
 
It was not a matter of if Hostess Brands would go under, but when. BCTGM leadership tried in vain to convince the company to either present a viable restructuring plan, or begin selling the assets to a baking company that would actually invest in it. The company did neither.

When Hostess received permission from the bankruptcy court to impose its last, final offer onto its baking employees, it knew it would be met with resistance. And when Hostess did impose those concessionary contracts, it was met with a tidal-wave of opposition that is rarely seen in today’s labor movement. BCTGM workers at bakeries across the country struck. Striking members traveled to other Hostess bakeries and set up picket lines which were honored by those members. Production ceased at 24 of 36 Hostess plants across the U.S.

“I think we’re the first ones who have stood up and said, ‘We’re not going to let you get away with it,’” said Local 334 (Biddeford, Maine) member Sue Tapley.

These workers knew what the final outcome was likely to be. They did not celebrate. They were not happy about the downfall of an American icon. But these courageous members were fighting for something much bigger: that the idea that manufacturing workers should just be “happy to have a job” is not something that working people should accept.

“I’m not just in this fight for my family. This is a fight to help protect the future of thousands of other bakery workers and their families across the country. We must put a stop to American private equity corporations stripping down middle class families,” said Local 65 (Tulsa, Okla.) member Shmona Welch.

Download BCTGM-Hostess fact sheets from Nov. 9 and Nov. 16 for more information.

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