The week-old bakery union strike against Hostess Brands played out Thursday in a war of words, but none specific enough to cement the companys future.
By DIANE STAFFORD
The Kansas City Star
Company spokesmen said plant operations were being assessed Thursday evening, and a statement regarding liquidation could come today.
A 4 p.m. deadline Thursday had been set for enough striking members to return to work to make the bakeries run efficiently or face liquidation of the entire company.
The company said that if enough workers failed to return, it would ask for a liquidation hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York and could shut down operations as early as Tuesday.
About 18,000 Hostess jobs would be affected nationally if the company, formerly known as Interstate Brands, converts its bankruptcy reorganization to liquidation.
Hostess has been operating 36 bread and snack cake bakeries, including one in Lenexa. It closed three plants already and said at least 13 were operating unsustainably because of the walkouts.
The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union went on strike because of wage and benefits cuts in a contract that it didnt approve. It represents about 5,300 Hostess employees.
Hostess CEO Gregory Rayburn charged Thursday that the bakery union appears willing to sacrifice Hostess Brands employees for the sake of preventing other bakery companies from asking for similar concessions.
The bakery union leadership fought back, saying that the bankrupt company for the last eight years has been in the hands of Wall Street investors, restructuring experts, third-tier managers from other non-baking food companies and currently a liquidation specialist.
The current bankruptcy petition, filed in January, was the second for Hostess. It listed assets of $982 million and liabilities of $1.43 billion. The first bankruptcy reorganization filing was in 2004.
In a press release Thursday afternoon, Hostess said the union chose not to negotiate on the bankruptcy court-approved contract earlier this year. It said union leadership was giving its members a false sense of hope that a buyer would purchase the company if it liquidated.
Three Hostess bakeries in Seattle, Cincinnati and St. Louis already have been closed in an action the company said was in response to the strike.
A spokesman for the company said published comments by the St. Louis mayor that the company had planned to close the St. Louis plant before the strike were based on an outdated reorganization plan that no longer applied.
The union said it is battling a history of mismanagement Six CEOs in eight years, none of whom with any bread and cake baking industry experience.
Meanwhile, the Teamsters, the largest union at Hostess with about 7,000 workers, urged the bakery union to hold a secret vote to determine if its workers want to return to work.
A statement released by the Teamsters union said, in part, that the bakery union leaders are putting Teamster members in a horrible position asking them to support a strike that will put them out of a job when they havent even asked all their members to go on strike.
That strike is now on the verge of forcing the company to liquidate it is difficult for Teamster members to believe that is what the (bakery union) members ultimately wanted to accomplish when they went out on strike.
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