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Hostess Ultimatum Fails to Quell Biddeford Strikers
11/15/2012   Reported By: Samantha Fields

The witching hour has come and gone for employees who are on strike against Hostess Brands, including those at a plant in Biddeford. Hostess said yesterday that if enough of its workers did not go back to their jobs by 5 p.m. today, it would with file a motion with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Friday to liquidate the entire company, and that plants could begin closing as soon as Tuesday. As Samantha Fields reports, that ultimatum did not seem to have much effect on those on strike out in front of the Biddeford plant today.

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The warning from Hostess Brands CEO Greg Rayburn sounds dire: "If we don't get enough people to cross the lines and get back to somewhere closer to normal operating production, then we'll have to liquidate the company," he says.

But for many on strike outside the Biddeford plant, like Dennis Lovejoy (right), the threat was nothing new.

"Up 'til now it's every day coulda been the last day," Lovejoy says. "We've been living on eggshells for a long time. They've been sending us stuff in the mail for months and months saying, 'Any day you're going to come in and you're not coming in.' And it's been very uneasy and very stressful."

Many of those on strike in Biddeford say they're fed up with how Hostess has been managed, and how it's been treating employees. The new contract the company imposed was the last straw - not just the 8 percent pay cut, but the significant cuts to pensions and benefits.

Lindsey Barnes has been working at the Biddeford plant for 20 years - since before Hostess bought it. He says that he and his colleagues are standing on principle, and that ending the strike wouldn't be worth it, even to keep his job.

IMG_0084There's no security here," Barnes (right) says. "When you get a letter sent to you every other month saying that they're going to close and do this and do that if we don't help - well we've been helping all along. We already took cuts, all along through this whole cycle. And they're proving themselves. They had 80 something bakeries and now they're down to 30."

Of the 33 Hostess plants around the country, 24 are on strike, or honoring picket lines. CEO Greg Rayburn says there are "critical production issues" at about half of those - including in Biddeford.

Hostess Brands filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January. for the second time since 2004. The company says the wage and benefit reductions it's offering employees in the new contract are necessary for its survival. Rayburn says if employees aren't willing to accept the new contract, they should quit, and let the rest of the Hostess employees - many of whom are non-union - keep their jobs.

"Because there's no better offer coming," Rayburn says. "This is it for this company. So if people are unhappy, I can understand that. But I don't know why they would strike and cause another 13,000 workers to be out of work who don't want to be out of work. And the reality is that no matter what the pension cuts and the wage concessions are, 92 percent of your first year wage in the contract is going to be a lot better than 0 percent in the unemployment line."

But the workers who are on strike outside the Biddeford plant, including Lindsey Barnes, say it's not about the 8 percent pay cut. Instead they say it's about standing up to a company that doesn't take care of its employees.

"And that's a scary thing, not knowing if I'm going to come to work to have insurance or not, you know?" Barnes says. "That's scary. And it's scary enough to lose my job alone. I've got two kids at home. And a mortgage and a car payment, just like everybody does. But, you know, our principles are here. And we need to let people know that we can't let corporate greed kill our economy. We just can't. And we're standing up for it now."

Fellow striker Ernest Curtain says those on the picket line had no intention of walking back into that plant before Hostess' 5 p.m. deadline. "I would hope not," he says. "I mean, why come this far, and then just to give up to me would be ridiculous. I don't see no point in it. Not that anyone here wants to lose their jobs. Everybody's here making a point that we're here to stay."

Curtain and his co-workers do believe the strike will probably mean the end of Hostess. Maybe not as soon as Tuesday, but soon enough. He says they're not happy about it, but that they're not having any second thoughts, either.

Many of the workers on the picket line have been at the Biddeford plant since before Hostess came along, and they hope that maybe another company will give them the chance to earn a living.

Photos by Samantha Fields.


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