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redeyechicago.com

Hostess employees react as company moves forward with liquidation plan

Ann Keil

4:47 PM CST, November 16, 2012

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Hostess Brands employees who have been on strike remained outside the company's Indianapolis bakery Friday night even after company officials said they are moving forward with a liquidation of their assets.

The well-known company had warned protesting members of the bakers union that they would face the consequences if their work disruption continued.

"I got the phone call this morning at 5:30, 540 this morning that we were actually done," said Kevin Townsend, a driver who's been with the company for 30 years. He is a member of another union that accepted the companies' terms regarding pay and benefits.

Townsend's pay was cut three times in recent years.

"This one, they actually quit paying the pension, we took a big hit on healthcare as far as insurance, and they reduced our wages by eight percent," he said.

That is part of the reason why the bakers union organized pickets outside Hostess locations across the county beginning last Friday.

"We had no choice. We couldn't give it up to them so they could pocket the money," said Jeff Ruff,  a Hostess employee and member of the bakers union.

Even when company officials permanently shut down three plants, the unions' members continued to strike. They also sent a letter to Indiana state officials earlier this year warning about the potential for protest, and their likely reaction.

"We knew that a situation like this could arise, and we wanted to make sure, and we were legally required to make sure, that our employees knew this was a possibility," said Erik Halvorson, a company spokesperson.

Halvorson said they would not be negotiating with the union that represents just under a third of its employees.

Now, the last few iconic treats like Twinkies will be produced by a small group of employees who will ship them to the company's retail stores. They are expected to remain open for seven to 10 days, or until the shelves are cleared.

"They poured their heart and soul into it, and unfortunately, because of the actions of a few, they're going to lose their jobs, and lose them probably at the worst time of the year ," said Halvorson.

Of the 18,500 Hostess employees, there are about 860 Hoosiers who will likely be out of work.

"Hopefully, there is someone out there that will buy us and treat us right," said Ruff.

"I'll just file for unemployment, and see what happens. I don't know," said Townsend.

Hostess top officials will ask a judge permission to liquidate on Monday. They are expecting an immediate decision.