April 24, 2013
By Donald Woods, BCTGM Local 1 President
Chicago, Illinois. – When Hostess received permission from the bankruptcy court to impose its last offer, both management and union leaders knew it would be met with resistance – in fact a tidal wave of opposition rarely seen in today's labor movement. BCTGM workers at bakeries across the U.S., voted to strike. Production ceased at 24 of 36 U.S. plants.
These workers knew what the final outcome was likely to be. They did not celebrate the downfall of an American icon. But these courageous members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union were fighting for something much bigger. That manufacturing workers should just be "happy to have a job" is not something working people should accept.
Hostess' demise was the result of more than a decade of mismanagement that resulted in two bankruptcies, mountains of debt, declining sales and lost market share. BCTGM members made significant concessions in Hostess' first bankruptcy in 2004; without them it's unlikely Hostess would have survived much longer. Promises made about capital investments were not kept and subsequently led to the 2012 bankruptcy filing. We felt strongly this time around that the viability of the company had been fatally compromised under its current structure.
Hostess executives sought to force workers to absorb even greater cuts, including the loss of their pension contributions. The company's "last, best, and final offer" was forwarded to our members exactly as it was presented to us. They were informed that the company would liquidate should they reject the proposal. BCTGM members voted with the facts in hand to strike.
BCTGM is a democratic organization. Its local unions enjoy considerable autonomy. More than 5,000 BCTGM members from 33 local unions, representing more than 160 Hostess units in 31 states, each held their own strike votes. BCTGM members were given the company's final offer and ultimately voted to reject it by an overwhelming 92 percent.
Today, nearly five months after the strike, our Hostess members remain confident that they made the right decision. We remain hopeful that our members will have the opportunity to go back to work in these bakeries with new owners who share their commitment to success and fair collective bargaining agreements.
*Donald Woods is president of Local 1 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union in Chicago.