Deadline to end strike passes at Hostess

by Josh Sosland
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IRVING, TEXAS — A Nov. 15 deadline established by Hostess Brands, Inc. for its workers to end their strike by has passed without word of an end to the walkout. Hostess has said the continuation of the strike beyond 5 p.m. E.S.T. would set in motion a series of actions, beginning Nov. 16, to liquidate the company.

In an official statement issued Nov. 15, Frank Hurt, president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers International Union, did not specifically address either the deadline or the possibility that the continued walkout would result in the immediate liquidation of the company. Instead, he insisted on a reversal of cuts proposed in the Hostess reorganization plan as well as cuts agreed upon earlier.

“I am sure that our members would be agreeable to return to work as soon as the company rescinds the implementation of the horrendous wage and benefit reductions, including pension, and the restoration of the cuts that have already taken place,” Mr. Hurt said.

The lengthy statement by Mr. Hurt principally was aimed at attributing the company’s problems to mismanagement rather than the strike.

“Despite Greg Rayburn’s (Hostess chief executive officer) insulting and disingenuous statements of the last several months, the truth is that Hostess workers and their union have absolutely no responsibility for the failure of this company,” Mr. Hurt said. “That responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the company’s decision makers.”

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the largest union at Hostess, took a different view. In a statement Nov. 15, the Teamsters said the B.C.T.G.M. action “has put thousands of jobs in jeopardy.”

“(Liquidation is) the certain outcome if members of the B.C.T.G.M. continue to strike,” the Teamsters said. “This is based on conversations with our financial experts who, because the Teamsters were involved in the legal process, had access to financial information about the company.”

In issuing the ultimatum, Mr. Rayburn said the company “simply does not have the financial resources to survive an ongoing national strike.”

The Teamsters statement sought to clearly differentiate the paths pursued by the two unions in dealing with Hostess in bankruptcy. An excerpt from the statement follows:

As stated previously, Teamster Hostess members have been frustrated by numerous missteps by a variety of Hostess management teams, but the union has tried to engage constructively to find a solution to preserve jobs. That comprehensive engagement has spanned 18 months.

The Teamsters chose to challenge the company’s path of a worker-only solution, engage constructively so other constituents would be sacrificing and require management changes and oversight so that the same missteps would not be repeated.

In fact, when Hostess attempted to throw out its collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters in court, the Teamsters fought back and won, ensuring that Hostess could not unilaterally make changes to working conditions during the several months’ long legal process that recently ended. Teamster Hostess members were allowed to decide their fate by voting on the final offer conducted by a secret mail ballot. More than two-thirds of Hostess Teamsters members voted with 53% voting to approve the final offer.

The B.C.T.G.M. chose a different path, as is their prerogative, to not substantively look for a solution or engage in the process. B.C.T.G.M. members were told there were better solutions than the final offer, although Judge Drain stated in his decision in bankruptcy court that no such solutions exist. Without complete information, B.C.T.G.M. members voted by voice votes in union halls. The B.C.T.G.M. reported that over 90% rejected the final offer and three of its units ratified the final offer.

On Friday, Nov. 9, the B.C.T.G.M. began to strike at some Hostess production facilities without notice to the Teamsters despite assurances they would not proceed with job actions without contacting the Teamsters Union. This unannounced action put Teamster members in the difficult position of facing picket lines without knowing their right to honor such a line without being disciplined.

As is our longstanding tradition, Teamster members by and large are honoring Bakery Worker picket lines when encountered and complying with their contractual obligations when not encountering picket lines. The B.C.T.G.M. 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 haven’t 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 B.C.T.G.M. Hostess members ultimately wanted to accomplish when they went out on strike. We may never know unless the B.C.T.G.M. members, based on the facts they know today, get to determine their fate in a secret ballot vote. Teamster members would understand that the will of the B.C.T.G.M. Hostess membership was truly heard if that was the case.

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