Beloved bakery Hostess files for bankruptcy after failing to reach a deal with its union, putting 18,500 people out of work.
10:57 AM, Nov 16, 2012 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
Yesterday, Hostess announced that it would be forced to liquidate if it could not get striking employees to return to full production as of today. Among many pro-labor types, this was dismissed as yet another negotiating ploy by management. It wasn't. Hostess is laying off 18,500 workers and liquidating its assets. Here's how Hostess explained the situation:
Anyone who is surprised by this decision to liquidate and lay off employees wasn't really paying attention. Hostess emerged from Chapter 11 in January amidst a bad economy and the trend toward healthy eating already had the company in a precarious position. Without scaling back Hostess's overly generous union contracts, the company was almost guaranteed to go under. Kyle Smith had an article in Forbes earlier this year that outlined how grim things were: "Hostess is saddled with 372 collective bargaining agreements, 80 different health and pension benefit plans and workers’ compensation costs that last year hit $52 million–which works out to over $2700 for each of its 19,000 employees."
Despite this unsustainable situation, Smith notes that union was so intransigent it refused to even give up paid holidays on workers birthdays, an odd benefit that almost no companies provide. Also, the union work rules at Hostess were near farcical:
Making matters worse, the Hostess liquidation will likely drag down other companies. Hostess was a party to 40 multiemployer pension plans. Multiemployer pension plans are unique to unions, and here's how they work:
In other words, other companies who never had any relationship with Hostess and its employees may now find themselves on the hook to pay for the expensive pensions the failed bakery.
It should be said that the closing of Hostess is a tragedy for its workers, and it's a classic example of workers not being served well by their union leaders. Leading up to Hostess's decision, many workers were crossing picket lines, aware that the situation threatened the survival of the company. And the Teamsters Union was willing to compromise with management in a way that was agreeable. It was the Bakers union -- a.k.a. the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union -- that ultimately refused to strike a deal.
The Hostess brand is iconic and beloved, and the sales are still brisk -- even if they aren't enough to justify the costs demanded by Hostess's union bosses. Someone will probably pick up the pieces and begin producing Twinkies and Wonderbread again, though Hostess's production will almost certainly be moved to facilities located in right-to-work states. Until then, ding dong the Ding Dong is dead.