Saturday, November 17, 2012

Unions Kill An American Classic — And 18,500 of Their Own Jobs

At the Wall Street Journal, "The Twinkie, a Suicide":

Hostess's owners have decided to liquidate rather than ride out a nationwide strike by one of the largest of its dozen unions, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. The Texas-based company owned by the private-equity shop Ripplewood Holdings and other hedge funds essentially gave up. On Friday it shut down its 33 bakeries and 565 distribution centers and prepared to fire nearly 18,500 employees en masse and auction off its brand and recipe portfolio.

Hostess posted sales of $2.5 billion in 2011 but lost $341 million and lacked the cash flow to hold out through the bakers union work stoppage that had only lost a few days of production so far. One reason is a labor-rule burden that by comparison makes Detroit look like Hong Kong.

The snack giant endured $52 million in workers' comp claims in 2011, according to its bankruptcy filing this January. Hostess's 372 collective-bargaining agreements required the company to maintain 80 different health and benefit plans, 40 pension plans and mandated a $31 million increase in wages and health care and other benefits for 2012.

Union work rules usually required cake and bread products to be delivered to a single retail location using two separate trucks. Drivers weren't allowed to load their own vehicles, and the workers who loaded bread weren't allowed to load cake. On most delivery routes, another "pull up" employee moved products from back rooms to shelves.

This year management negotiated concessions from some of the unions, including the Teamsters, but the bakers rejected a last and best offer in September. Then the courts gave Hostess unilateral authority to modify collective-bargaining contracts, prompting the strike. So now it will liquidate, instead of attempting to emerge from Chapter 11 intact.

The 18,500 layoffs are equal to about 11% of the net new jobs the entire U.S. economy created in October. The unions are blaming private equity, or Bain Capital, or capitalism, but the election is over. And so is Hostess.
PREVIOUSLY: "Hostess Goes Down: Daily Kos Blames Corporate Greed and Mitt Romney-Style Liquidation."