Unions May Be Kidding Themselves by Banking on Getting Jobs Back After Hostess Liquidation

Unions May Be Kidding Themselves by Banking on Getting Jobs Back After Hostess Liquidation
Catherine Downes

The bakers union's new president has finally broken his silence following the collapse of Irving-based Hostess, baker of Wonder Bread and Twinkies. It was the bakers, after all, who largely sat out the attempted restructuring in a New York federal bankruptcy court, then dynamited the negotiations by striking last November.

The company folded shortly thereafter and some 18,000 jobs were lost -- the subject of last week's cover story.

Now newly elected bakers union President David Durkee seems downright cocksure that his membership will, somehow, come out on top as bidders seek to buy up the pieces of the former baking empire. "From our perspective, the situation in 2012 comes off as a position of strength," he told The Wall Street Journal, expressing easy confidence that the thousands of out-of-work bakers will find employment with new ownership.

There's a difference between being hopeful and deluded, and Durkee is toeing the line of the latter. The lead bidder for Hostess' bread brands is a company called Flowers Foods, baker of Tastykake and Nature's Own bread, which has pledged $360 million to set the floor for bidding. This is not a terribly unionized company, and in the agreement it hashed out with Hostess management, posted on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission website, it doesn't sound like Flowers plans on changing that.

To wit, the "Successor Liability" passage: Flowers assumes no "liability claims related to employment, pension plans, multi-employer pension plans or collective bargaining agreements." This doesn't read like a company that plans on re-establishing a union shop.

"Only our members know how to get that equipment running," Durkee insists. "A workforce off the street will not be able to accomplish that."

For what he calls a "seamless restart" of Hostess' bread brands, he may be right. Question is, will pensions and work rules and a union that has proven itself willing to take to the picket line pose bigger worries to Flowers and other potential suitors?

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