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Vol. 76/No. 44      December 3, 2012

On the Picket Line

Hostess blames strike for
decision to close, sell assets

BIDDEFORD, Maine, Nov. 15—A countdown chant—“five, four, three, two, one”—followed by cheering is how more than 150 strikers and their supporters here greeted the Hostess Brand bosses’ 5 p.m. deadline to return to work or face closure of the company’s operations nationwide.

About 370 members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 334 went on strike here Nov. 9 after the company unilaterally imposed a concession contract amid bankruptcy proceedings. The plant was one of 24 BCTGM-organized Hostess bakeries and one transport facility where workers walked out on strike or in honor of picket lines.

“We all survived before we came here, we will survive after we go,” Florida Jarry told the Militant on the picket line here.

Hostess’ previous bankruptcy, which lasted from 2004 to 2009, led to the closure of 21 Hostess plants, voluntary union concessions and the elimination of thousands of jobs.

“In 2004 we gave huge concessions. The company saved $110 million and the agreement was to invest it in new machinery,” Donald Woods, president of BCTGM Local 1, told the Militant at a picket line in Shiller Park, Ill. “They won’t stop here. It’s never enough.”

In July 2011, the company stopped making payments to the Hostess workers’ pensions, but continued to deduct money from their wages—pocketing nearly $160 million.

The company filed for bankruptcy in January. In September Hostess presented its “best and final offer” to the workers, some 7,500 represented by the Teamsters Union and 5,700 by the BCTGM. The Teamsters passed the concessions with 54 percent in favor, while BCTGM members rejected them by 92 percent. Hostess’ bosses went to the bankruptcy judge and got the cuts imposed on the bakery union’s members, leading to the Nov. 9 strikes.

The company-imposed contract immediately cut wages by 8 percent, increased the share of health care costs paid by the workers and eliminated overtime wages after an eight-hour day.

“We deeply regret the necessity of today’s decision [to close operations], but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike,” Gregory Rayburn, chief executive officer said in a Nov. 16 company news release titled, “Hostess Brands to Wind Down Company After BCTGM Union Strike Cripples Operations.”

“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,” Rayburn said.

This involves the closure of the company’s 36 bakeries, 565 distribution centers, 5,500 delivery routes and 570 outlet stores throughout the United States.

Hostess and the bakery workers union agreed Nov. 19 to a proposal from Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain to mediate their dispute, putting plans to shutter the company on hold.

—Ted Leonard
Ilona Gersh from Illinois contributed

Calif. grocery strikers push back
company attack on medical plan

GILROY, Calif.—After nine days on the picket line, some 7,000 workers at the northern California chains of Nob Hill and Raley’s supermarkets returned to work, having pushed back some of the bosses’ demands.

The strike by members of the United Food and Commercial Workers began Nov. 4 when, after more than a year of failed negotiations, Raley’s announced it would impose its “last and final” offer. The company wanted a wage freeze, an end to premium pay for Sundays and holidays, an end to medical coverage for retirees and a new medical plan.

On Nov. 11, a week into the strike, company officials contacted the UFCW, saying they wanted to go back to the bargaining table. Officials from the company and union then agreed to a tentative contract, the terms of which will not be public until after union members have voted on it.

Workers picketing at the Nob Hill store on the last day of the strike here told the Militant they thought the company was influenced by strikers’ success in convincing many customers to shop elsewhere.

“The company was hurting because the customers supported us,” said Angie Guzman. “The success was also from us being strong, walking out together.”

“Many customers understand when you say we’re fighting for our medical plan and wages,” Jasmyn Areas told the Militant Nov. 6 at the picket line outside the Nob Hill supermarket in Alameda. “But it also hurts when some cross. Like when one told me I should be happy to even have a job.”

Raley’s says it needs to cut costs because of competition from the many nonunion stores, including Walmart, Target and Whole Foods.

In a union statement announcing the end of the strike, Local 5 President Ron Lind said that, along with keeping the medical plan and coverage for retirees, the tentative agreement “addresses the company’s competitive challenges.”

In September the UFCW signed a concessionary contract with another big supermarket chain, Save Mart, and its Lucky subsidiary, which included pay cuts and a new health care premium. Workers from both Lucky and Safeway supermarkets were among those who turned out at a Nov. 7 rally of 700 in Alameda to support the strike.

During the Raley’s strike, the UFCW announced a tentative agreement with the Safeway supermarket chain that workers will soon vote on. While all the terms of the contract are not public, the agreement includes maintaining the health plan that was at issue in the strike at Raley’s and Nob Hill.

—Betsey Stone

Workers strike Bombardier over
subcontracting, pension freeze

LA POCATIÈRE, Quebec—Rail car construction workers went on strike Nov. 1 against Bombardier here around subcontracting and pension demands.

The 330 members of the Confederation of National Trade Unions have been without a contract since September 2011. They voted Oct. 27 by 95 percent to walk out if negotiations didn’t move forward.

“The workers are very determined,” Mario Lévesque, local president, told the Militant. Workers maintain 24/7 picket lines outside the plant.

Based in Quebec, Bombardier is a major international corporation in rail and airplane manufacture. In 2009 it was granted a $1.2 billion contract to build new cars for Montreal’s subway system on promises to keep jobs in Quebec. “But the company refuses to respect this agreement,” Lévesque said. “In 2006 we had 1,000 at this plant, today there are 330. Our pensions have been frozen since 2003.”

“We are out against subcontracting. We want to keep our jobs,” Carole Dubé told the Militant on the picket line Nov. 10.

Bombardier declares all its contracts will be fulfilled in full and on time.

—Annette Kouri

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