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Picketing Continues in Biddeford, Despite Hostess Shutdown
11/16/2012   Reported By: Samantha Fields

Hostess Brands announced this morning that it is going out of business, and closing all plants - including one in Biddeford. The company filed a motion in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to begin liquidation - something it had threatened to do if enough of its striking employees did not return to work by 5 p.m yesterday. According to the state Department of Labor, the move will put about 500 people in Maine out of work. But as Samantha Fields reports, picket lines are still going strong at the Biddeford plant - and at others across the country - despite the fact that not all unions support the action.

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Picketing Continues in Biddeford, Despite Hostess Listen

Hostess strike 11162012

Even after Hostess announced that it's begun the process of shutting down the entire company, about 300 workers from the Baker's Union are still on strike. Out on the picket line in Biddeford, Dennis Lovejoy says the company's decision to sell off its assets hasn't changed the mood, or the strikers' resolve.

"Not much different than yesterday," Lovejoy says. "It's not over 'til it's all over. You can't trust anything they say. I'm sure there's still some other angle they have somewhere."

Hostess strike 11162012Members of the Baker's Union have been picketing in front of both entrances to the Biddeford plant around the clock since last Friday, rotating through four-hour shifts. And they say they'll stay out there until the plant officially closes.

But all indications are that Hostess is moving forward with liquidation. A sign on the door at the Biddeford plant (above) says that "Hostess Brands has closed all locations."

And in a written statement, CEO Greg Rayburn said, "We do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike. Hostess Brands will move promptly to lay off most of its 18,500-member workforce and focus on selling its assets to the highest bidders."

Lovejoy and many of his fellow strikers say that even if the action does bring about the end of the company, it was the right thing to do. "Absolutely. There was no choice. There was nothing left here."

Not everyone who works for Hostess in Biddeford feels the same way. Robert Prescott is a member of the Teamsters Union, which also represents a group of Hostess employees. The Teamsters did not support the strike and were willing to agree to wage and benefit cuts.

Hostess strike 11162012Prescott has been at the company for 17 years, and until recently, was making $60,000 a year. "I was still willing to accept, myself, as agreed to, the concessions," he says. "I would take $42,000, as opposed to zero. And that's exactly what this came down to."

The Teamsters say they understood the company's financial difficulties. They had a representative who reviewed the books and advised them that the concessions were necessary for Hostess' survival, and not just a company ploy.

Teamster Robert Bundy is a transport driver who's worked at the Biddeford plant for 13 years, and was expecting to earn about $90,000 this year. While he doesn't fault his fellow co-workers in the Bakers' Union for forcing the company's hand, he says he does take issue with the union's national leadership.

"They were on a death march," he says. "It's the first strike I've ever heard of where they didn't want their money back. They said they want their money and their pension back. But what they really wanted was to close the company."

Though the Teamsters and Baker's unions disagree over the strike, they do agree on one thing: More than anything, they blame Hostess - a company they say has not been interested in making bread, in managing its finances, or in taking care of its employees, for years.

Some Hostess employees are not entirely convinced yet that Hostess will follow through with liquidation. But if it does, many of them hope that another company will come in and buy the plant - and keep it operating.

It's something Biddeford City Manager John Bubier says he's prepared to facilitate. "The value in the existing plant is clear, and I think that we would certainly offer our assistance in trying to market that and trying to work with IBC if that is something they would like us to do," he says.

Bubier is already making calls about putting together a team to work on finding a buyer for the plant. Conversations are also underway at both the city and state levels about helping the hundreds of soon-to-be-unemployed Hostess workers with unemployment benefits and insurance coverage.

Photos by Samantha Fields.


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