Hostess, the makers of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread, is going out of business after striking workers failed to heed a Thursday deadline to return to work, the company said.
“We deeply regret the necessity of today’s decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike,” Hostess CEO Gregory F. Rayburn said in announcing that the firm had filed a motion with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to shutter its business. “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.”
Hostess Brands Inc. had earlier warned employees that it would file to unwind its business and sell off assets if plant operations didn't return to normal levels by 5 p.m. Thursday. In announcing its decision, Hostess said its wind down would mean the closure of 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers, approximately 5,500 delivery routes and 570 bakery outlet stores in the United States.
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Hostess suspended bakery operations at all its factories and said its stores will remain open for several days to sell already-baked products. In the Chicago area, there were reports of Hostess products flying off the shelves.
Rayburn told The Associated Press that there was no buyer waiting in the wings to rescue the company. But without giving details, he said that there has been interest in some of its 30 brands. Experts agreed that it was likely the biggest brands would survive.
The Irving, Texas-based company had already reached a contract agreement with its largest union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. But thousands of members in its second-biggest union went on strike late last week after rejecting in September a contract offer that cut wages and benefits. Officials for the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union say the company stopped contributing to workers' pensions last year.
NBC's Savannah Guthrie read a statement on "Today" from the bakers' union that said: “Despite Greg Rayburn’s insulting and disingenuous statements of the last several months, the truth is that Hostess workers and the union have absolutely no responsibility for the failure of this company. That responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the company’s decision makers.”
Rayburn responded that he had been “pretty straightforward in all the town hall meetings I’ve done at our plants to say that in this situation I think there is blame that goes around for everyone.”
He denied that the decision to shut down could be a last ditch negotiation tactic to get the union back to the table.
“It’s over,” he said. “This is it.”
Although many workers decided to cross picket lines this week, Hostess said it wasn't enough to keep operations at normal levels; three plants were closed earlier this week. Rayburn told the AP Hostess was already operating on thin margins and that the strike was a final blow.
"The strike impacted us in terms of cash flow. The plants were operating well below 50 percent capacity and customers were not getting products," Rayburn said.
The privately held company filed for Chapter 11 protection in January, its second trip through bankruptcy court in less than a decade. The company cited increasing pension and medical costs for employees as one of the drivers behind its latest filing. Hostess had argued that workers must make concessions for it to exit bankruptcy and improve its financial position.
The company, founded in 1930, was fighting battles beyond labor costs, however. Competition is increasing in the snack space and Americans are increasingly conscious about healthy eating. Hostess also makes Dolly Madison, Drake's and Nature's Pride snacks.
If the motion is granted, Hostess would begin closing operations as early as Tuesday.
"Most employees who lose their jobs should be eligible for government-provided unemployment benefits," Hostess said.