Hostess liquidation puts 286 in NC out of work

kpoe@newsobserver.comNovember 16, 2012 

  • The price of capitalism Someone in Raleigh is selling a single Twinkie on eBay for $5,000; in Clayton the asking price is $8,000 for 10. After news broke that Hostess was winding down operations, User pingsing24 put the prized confection online for $5,000 saying: “This is your opportunity to own a piece of history, a delicious piece at that. You are bidding on a single Twinkie that will be protectively packaged and shipped to the winning bidder.” User rizzyt2,who is offering 10 individual Twinkies for $8,000 is willing to negotiate if you wish to buy them all. The sale price does not include shipping. Returns are not accepted, both sellers say. Both auctions end on Black Friday. Hostess has said its products should be on shelves for another week or so. Staff writer Andrew Roman

— The 286 people who work in the Merita bread factory on North Church Street are out of work following Friday’s announcement that parent company Hostess will seek permission to end operations and liquidate its assets. About 75 of the workers participated in a nationwide strike that started at midnight Tuesday. Hostess Brands had warned the workers to return to work by 5 p.m. Thursday or face the company’s liquidation.

The deadline came and went as picketers stood around a heater under umbrellas in the rain. “It’s five o’ clock and nobody’s crying,” one woman yelled.

Friday morning they were still picketing and planned to stay there until the union gave the order to stop.

Now they face unemployment in a part of the state where lots of other people do, too.

The unemployment rate was 11.1 percent in Nash County and 13.6 percent in neighboring Edgecombe County in September, according to the state Bureau of Labor Statistics, among the highest in the state.

Randy Fulk, a state representative of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers International Union, said Thursday that this isn’t a typical labor union strike because the workers have already made significant concessions.

“They’re not asking for more,” Fulk said. “They’re just trying to keep what they’ve still got.”

Hostess, the parent company for brands such as Twinkies, Ho Hos and Wonder Bread, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January for the second time since 2004, and had cut wages by 8 percent and increased employee contributions to health insurance. This spring, the company notified state officials that it could lay off 617 workers in the state if it was not able to emerge from bankruptcy. Hostess has locations in 33 North Carolina counties, including about 30 at a sales office in Raleigh.

Lamont Phillips, a Rocky Mount resident and president of the union’s local 503, worked in the plant for 23 years. He said the biggest reason he joined the protest is that Hostess stopped paying his pension fund about 18 months ago, when he only had about 8 years to go before he would qualify for full benefits when he retired.

“To just snatch that away from me, that’s not fair,” Phillips said.

On Friday, Phillips, 41, said he plans to file for unemployment and look for a job.

Johnny Thomas, who worked at the plant nine years, said he started taking classes after being unhappy with the way he was treated, and plans to finish his degree now. He hopes to work with developmentally disabled adults. Thomas said he worries for those co-workers who can’t go back to school. He said many of his colleagues are single parents.

“A lot of people there have been there so long, and that’s all they’ve got is factory skills,” Thomas said. “Not having the professional-type skills, it’s hard to find work around here, because the factory industry is practically no more.”

Thomas had thought the threat to liquidate was hollow, but even though it wasn’t, he still thinks holding out was the best decision.

“We just could not keep giving and giving and giving,” Thomas said.

Poe: 919-829-4563

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