Union charges Hostess with misinformation campaign to weaken strike

The number of Hostess Brand bakeries that are either on strike or whose workers are honoring picket lines established  by strikers increased to 24 as the strike that began on November 9 spread across the nation.

In an attempt to disrupt the growing unity of Hostess bakery workers, Hostess CEO Gregory Rayburn announced that because of the strike the company is closing three of its production facilities.

BCTGM, the union of the striking workers, called the announcement by Rayburn another in a series of false public statements about the company’s bankruptcy and subsequent contract negotiations with BCTGM that were part of the bankruptcy proceedings.

“The recent claim by Hostess CEO Greg Rayburn that our strike is the reason for the closure of the three bakeries is simply not true,” said Frank Hurt, BCTGM president. “That statement is a continuation of a disturbing pattern by the company of issuing public statements that are erroneous at best and disingenuous at worst.”

Hurt said that the company’s reorganization plan filed with the bankruptcy court well before the strike began states that Hostess management planned to close nine bakeries, which the company refused to identify.

In addition, Hurt said the company’s final offer that 92 percent of BCTGM members rejected in September called for the closure of nine unidentified bakeries

“Rejection (of the final offer)  came from every corner of the country,” Hurt said. “(Members) were being asked to vote on a proposal with massive concessions, knowing that their plant could very well be one of those to be closed.

“Our members are on strike because they have had enough. They are not willing to take draconian wage and benefit cuts on top of the significant concessions they made in 2004 and give up their pension so that the Wall Street vulture capitalists in control of this company can walk away with millions of dollars.”

As further proof that Hostess wasn’t telling the truth about the closures, Hurt said that St Louis mayor Francis Slay was quoted by  KMOX news as saying, “I was told months ago they were planning on closing the site in St. Louis…  And there was no indication at that time it had anything to do with the strike.”

In addition to St. Louis, Hostess said that it plans to close bakeries in Cincinnati and Seattle.

Hostess filed for bankruptcy in January, the second time in the last eight years. When the company emerged from bankruptcy the first time, it was able to do so because its union workers agreed to $110 million in concessions and facility closures that cost about half of the unionized workforce their jobs.

Workers who remained on the job hoped that their investment would lead to the rebirth of a company that had been badly mismanaged.

After the workers agreed to the concessions, three private equity companies, Ripplewood Holdings, Monarch Alternative Investmenes, and Silver Point Capital, took control of the company and pledged to invest in modernizing the facilities that stayed open and rebranding the company’s signature products–Wonder Bread, Twinkies, Hostess Cupcakes, etc.

Instead, money that was supposed to be reinvested in the company was diverted to pay private equity fees, interest on the debt that the new owners took on to buy Hostess, and executive salaries and bonuses.

According to the union, workers voted to strike because they felt that past promises were broken and striking was the only way to gain a voice in important decisions that would affect their future.

In addition to plant closures, Hostess’ final offer included an 8 percent wage cut, a 20 percent increase in worker health care costs, and the end to eight-hour work shifts.

The company in July 2011 also quit making contributions to the workers’ pension fund and instead pocketed the $160 million that was supposed to go toward providing their workers with a secure retirement.

The following Hostess facilities are on strike: Lenexa, Kansas; 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.

The following are honoring picket lines: Indianapolis; Philadelphia; Emporia, Kansas; Hodgkins, Illinois; St. Louis; Memphis (the production facility); Schiller Park, Illinois; Los Angeles; Glendale, California; Sacramento; Knoxville, Tennessee; Cincinnati; and Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Hurt said that “company claims that union members are crossing picket lines and maintaining production at striking plants are vastly untrue.”

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