Hostess workers lose jobs

November 19, 2012 

Ever since Hostess Brands announced Friday that it would shut down, talk about sugary confections has been on many lips. The products, apparently, haven’t been.

Things might be different if only more folks had been buying Twinkies and Ho Hos and Hostess cupcakes all along, instead of talking them up over the weekend in a burst of ironic nostalgia for food times past, and causing a run on the remaining inventory.

So we get jokes about Twinkies’ ultra-long shelf life and tongue-in-cheek calls for the White House to “nationalize the Twinkie industry.” But the sorry reality is that many American workers’ lives are being put on the shelf. In Rocky Mount, for example, a Hostess-operated Merita Bread bakery is closing with the loss of 286 jobs.

The company blames burdensome union labor contracts for its latest entry into bankruptcy. The workers, in turn, cite past givebacks of wages and benefits, and accuse Hostess of bad faith. A strike last week was triggered by a company proposal to cut wages 8 percent, increase employees’ health care costs and trim pension benefits.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the labor talks, two things are clear: Hundreds of North Carolinians who had jobs have lost them, and the Rocky Mount area’s economy has suffered another setback. The September unemployment rate in Nash County was 11.1 percent, and in adjacent Edgecombe, 13.6 percent.

For all the talk of American manufacturing making a comeback, persistent structural problems remain. Here was a business with little direct foreign competition, with well-known brand names, that couldn’t find a path to consistent profitability. Was it just because its line workers made too much money? Doubtful.

The Twinkie brand may yet survive, sold off to some specialty baker. But unless last-ditch mediation efforts succeed, for many former Hostess workers it will be a grim holiday season.

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