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Former Hostess Workers Still Picketing Shuttered Plant

3 striking union members outside Hostess plant
KUOW/Deborah Wang

Striking members of a bakers’ union are still picketing a plant in Seattle that makes Hostess Twinkies and Ho Hos. That’s despite the fact the plant is now closed for good.

Hostess Brands closed the plant in Seattle, as well as plants in St. Louis and Cincinnati yesterday. It said the strike by bakers’ union members had made operations there impossible.

At the shuttered Seattle facility, a small group of union members continued to walk the picket line, holding "on strike" signs under a light rain.

“I feel so shocked. I feel locked out,” said 48-year old Shella Robbins.

Robbins was a foreman in the facility’s cake shop, and she worked at the company for 24 years. Although she has already found another job, she said she worries for her co-workers.

“My heart is crying out for everybody,” she said. “They have families. They have kids.”

Company Says Union To Blame For Closure

The union, which is officially called the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, went on strike against the company last week over pay and benefits. Company officials had warned the union that if they went out on strike, plant closures would follow.

Hostess has been facing serious financial difficulties. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year, for the second time in a decade.

“This is not something that we wanted to do at all. It’s the loss of a lot of jobs,” said Lance Ignon, a spokesman for Hostess Brands. “But we were left with no choice. We don’t have the financial wherewithal to fund a company that is being hampered by strikes.”

According to Ignon, if the strike is not settled in the next few days, the company could be forced to shut down entirely. Hostess operates 35 plants around the country, with a total workforce of more than 18,000 employees.

The union did not return calls for comment, but a statement on its website claimed the plant closures are not the result of the strike. The company announced during bankruptcy proceedings that it would close nine plants, although it refused to say which ones, according to the union’s statement.

“Our members are on strike because they have had enough,” the statement continued. “They are not willing to take the draconian wage and benefit cuts on top of the significant concessions they made in 2004 and give up their pensions so that the Wall Street vulture capitalists in control of this company can walk away with millions of dollars.”

Hostess Brands is partially owned by a consortium of private equity firms.

South Lake Union Icon

The Seattle facility is more than a century old, and it's a fixture in the South Lake Union neighborhood.

At Seattle Automotive Inc, an auto body shop across the street, Vanessa Keopraseurt said she will miss the smell that emanates from the bakery in the mornings.

"It's just like fresh baked cake, it smells so good," she said.

Moses Al-Tamimi remembers when he was a kid, the workers there used to give out treats.

"They would have stuff laying around, they would give it to us, or get little boxes of Twinkies and things," he said.

But neither Keopraseurt nor Al-Tamimi are fans of Hostess products today. "I'm more into healthy eating," said Al-Tamimi.

The company says it will now look for a buyer for its Seattle facility. The building is located in the fast developing South Lake Union neighborhood, and according to King County records, the property is appraised at close to $8 million.

The company hopes to find a buyer that will continue to operate the building as a bakery. But with an overcapacity of bakery facilities in the country, Hostess Brands spokesman Lance Ignon admits that may not be possible.

Year started with KUOW: 2005