It's rainy and cold on Precourt Street in Biddeford, where a couple dozen people are walking the picket line. A rotating group of workers has been maintaining a constant presence here since Friday in front of both entrances to the Hostess Brands plant.
Jerry Leighton (left), a maintenance mechanic, says employees are protesting cuts to their pay, their pensions and other benefits that the company just imposed on them.
"They didn't give us a chance to negotiate on it, they just said, 'You're going to take these pay cuts and you're going to like it,'" he says.
Instead of accepting the cuts, union employees at a number of Hostess Brands plants across the country are now on strike. And workers at other plants are honoring the picket lines.
In Biddeford, there are some local employees who have crossed the line and others who have been brought in from out of state to keep it operating.
Here comes their blackout vehicle now," Leighton says. "It's coming down the driveway. You can see it. It's a big Chevy SUV. It's gray in color and they have blacked out windows. They've got a security guard driving it. They've hired private security in here. Another expense that they really didn't need to put out. It's pretty well known as the scab mobile or the loser limo. Whatever you want to call it."
The majority of the plant's more than 300 union workers are on strike. Their employer, Hostess Brands, Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January. The company has said the wage and benefit reductions are necessary for its survival.
But union employees like Jerry Leighton say they're are fed up with how Hostess Brands has been managed, and the way it treats its workers. "It's too bad that it has to come to this," Leighton says. "But in order to stop them from basically grilling people into the ground, we have to do it."
Calls to Hostess Brands were not returned by airtime. But in a written statement issued Friday, the company warned that "a widespread strike will cause Hostess Brands to liquidate if we are unable to produce or deliver products."
Ernest Curtain is a molder operator at the plant. He says he hopes that the strike doesn't lead to the company's demise, but that, either way, it's the right thing to do.
"Regardless of whether we shut their business down or no - hopefully we don't - but I mean if that's what it takes to make a statement," he says. "I'm sure the whole nation is looking. We gotta stand strong and do whatever it takes until the bitter end."
And fellow striker Jerry Leighton says that, despite the risk, it's worth it to stand up for what he believes in. "And most of these guys that are standing out here believe it too," he says. "You stand out in the rain, you stand out in the cold. We have people here all the time. And tonight's going to be a little frosty for them. But they're going to be right out here on the line, and they're going to do what they have to do."
Biddeford City Manager John Bubier says there is no indication that the Biddeford plant is likely to close.
But if it does, some workers say they're optimistic that another baking company would be interested in taking over the plant, and keeping it - and many of its employees - working.
Photos by Samantha Fields.