November 29, 2012

32 area workers lose bakery jobs

By Carol Mills
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — The Hostess shutdown announcement on Friday, Nov. 16 sent shock waves through the country, causing Americans to begin hoarding Ding Dongs and bemoaning their fading childhoods.

The London Butternut Bakery Thrift Store and distribution center on south U.S. 25, across from the Ford dealership, closed last week after selling bread, snacks, chips, cookies, and similar goods for 50 percent off.  

Two employees at the London store and 25 regional drivers lost their jobs. The Butternut store in Barbourville, which had three employees, also closed as well as the Somerset store with two employees, for a total of 32. Nationwide more than 18,500 employees lost or will lose their jobs. Thirty-three bakeries and around 100 stores closed, a former London employee said. Hostess, which owns Butternut and Merita, recently filed for bankruptcy.

The retail bakery store on south U.S. 25 in Corbin is not effected because it is owned by Sara Lee.

The closings could not have come at a worse time — before the Christmas holiday.

Ronnie Sullivan, a route driver who was laid off, said he had been working for the company for a little more than two years.

“That was my primary paying job,” he said. “I pull two jobs to make ends meet because my wife stays home with our three kids. My part-time job in the evenings is my only source of income now. Luckily, we got most of our Christmas shopping done before Butternut closed. We just have a few odds and ends to get. For right now, Christmas looks pretty good. I’ve been applying at various locations, but so far, no hits on anything.”

A former driver, who wished to be anonymous, said he had applications out but has not got any calls, either.

He started working there when he was 21, old enough to drive a truck for the company. He said Hostess cut their pay for the second time, but they (drivers) agreed to work. The Teamsters (route drivers) voted to work, but the bakery (with a Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco workers, and Grain Millers Union) did not, so they went on strike.

A former employee of the London thrift store said she had been working there for 21 years and had to have a job with insurance because her husband has to take insulin shots. She said the shut down will affect a number of people, such as those who live in low-income apartments in the area who walk to the store, their other loyal customers, farmers who bought day-old bread by the barrel for feed, and those who bought the bread to feed the ducks at McHargue’s Mill in Levi Jackson Wilderness Road Park.

A small union's stubbornness in contract talks with Hostess is being blamed for the shutdown of one of America's snack food icons, the loss of 18,500 jobs just before the holiday season and much-needed tax revenue from hundreds of plants and shops across the country.

The privately-held company had reached a deal with the Teamsters, but a smaller union, BCTGM, representing bakery workers refused to agree to concessions, prompting the mass layoffs and closing down of hundreds of plants, bakeries and delivery routes. That prompted harsh words from both the company and from Teamsters officials.

"We deeply regret the necessity of today's decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike," Chief Executive Gregory Rayburn said in a statement. "Hostess Brands will move promptly to lay off most of its 18,500-member workforce and focus on selling its assets to the highest bidders."

Mark Rice, a steward of the local Teamsters Union in Lexington and a local route driver, said the company had financial issues for years.

“In my own opinion the closing and ultimate liquidation of the Hostess cannot be blamed on anyone union or management; it's a factor of all,” he said. “Teamsters spent a lot of money and time hiring experts to look at what could be done to save the company. The Bakers union seems to have done very little and never showed up for bankruptcy hearings or any negotiations with the company. The company had such a debt problem I don't think there were any solutions other than liquidation. Bottom line, 18,500 workers lost their jobs, unions lost members and the creditors will take a lost on their investment. I'm asked where will I get my Twinkies, for now you will have to do without; someone will buy the brand and start producing them again someday and more than likely they will not be produced by a union employee.”