Members of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM) who work for Hostess Brands began walking off the job on Friday, November 9 to protest an 8 percent wage cut unilaterally implemented by the company at about one-third of its 34 bakeries in the US.
By Monday morning, workers at 11 Hostess bakeries had gone on strike, and workers at 12 other Hostess bakeries were honoring picket lines established by the strikers.
Some locals at Hostess’ plants can legally strike either because the bankruptcy court ruled that they could do so, or because the local terminated its contract with Hostess and, therefore, is free to strike under rules resulting from the National Labor Relations Act, or because Hostess has implemented its final offer.
Because of contract language that is still in effect for other locals, these locals are free to honor picket lines established by striking BCTGM locals.
The strike began at the Hostess bakery in Lenexa, Kansas and then spread to Biddeford, Maine; Columbus, Indiana; Norwood Ohio; Peoria, Illinois; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Orlando, Florida, Memphis (at the River Gate Transport facility); Jacksonville, Florida; Billings, Montana; and Oakland, California.
BCTGM locals in Indianapolis; Philadelphia; Emporia, Kansas; Hodgkins, Illinois; St. Louis; Memphis (the production facility); Schiller Park, Illinois; Los Angeles; Glendale, California; Sacramento; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Cincinnati honored picket lines established by the strikers.
Hostess, which is trying to emerge from bankruptcy, received permission in October from the bankruptcy court to begin implementing terms of a final offer that 92 percent of BCTGM members had rejected in September.
In addition to the wage cut, the company’s final offer included higher worker health care costs, an end to the eight-hour workday, and the elimination of retiree Medi-gap insurance and a pension supplement used to pay health care and funeral costs.
Hostess stopped making payments to the workers’ pension fund during the summer of 2011 and pocketed the money that should have gone toward ensuring its workers a secure retirment.
Prior to the rejecting the offer, the workers had voted to authorize a strike if the union and company could not reach a fair deal on a new contract.
Instead of immediately implementing its final offer, the company waited for about three weeks, and then announced on October 22 that it would be implementing the 8 percent wage cut at about one-third of its facilities.
Hostess’ management hoped that the rolling and incremental implementation of its wage cut would make workers less likely to strike.
But when the reduced pay began to show up on the workers’ paychecks, the union called for strikes at bakeries directly affected. In addition to establishing pickets at their own bakeries, workers set up pickets that were honored at other nearby Hostess bakeries.
“Hostess Brands is making a mockery of the labor relations system that has been in place for nearly 100 years,” said Frank Hurt, BCTGM president. “Our members are not just striking for themselves, but for all unionized workers across North America who are covered by collective bargaining agreements.”
Hurt said that it was essential that workers stand up to the private equity firms that now own Hostess.
After workers in 2009 agreed to concessions that helped the new private equity owners exit Hostess’ first bankruptcy, they watched as “money that was supposed to go toward capital investment, product development, plant improvement, and new equipment went to executive bonuses and payouts to the hedge funds that own Hostess Brands,” said Hurt.
Hurt said that members voted to strike because past performance by the company’s owners suggest that they have little interest in making the investments needed to turn the company around, and striking is the only leverage that the workers have to make the owners get serious about saving the company.
“Our members have fought hard for decades through the collective bargaining process to build a decent standard of living for themselves and their families,” said Hurt. “The deplorable actions taken by Hostess would take our members back to the workplace standards of the 1950s. Our members have now said ‘no’ to Hostess and the Wall Street investors in the only means available to them, the strike. The BCTGM International Union stands in full and uncompromising support of our striking members.”
The principle owner of Hostess is Ripplewood Holdings, a private equity firm. Monarch Alternative Funding and Silver Point Capital also have a stake in the company.
BCTGM, Hostess’ second largest union, represents about 6,000 workers. Members of the Teamsters, which represents about 7,500 Hostess workers, voted in September to accept the concessions. The Teamsters primarily represents delivery drivers while BCTGM primarily represents bakery workers.