- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2013

Emerging from a near-death experience with bankruptcy, Twinkies could be back on the shelves just in time for summer.

The new owners of Hostess, preparing to ramp up production of popular snack brands like Twinkies and Ho Hos, are starting to detail their plans for a comeback, reopening bakeries around the country while denying reports that the company will blackball its longtime union employees in the process.

The company announced Monday it will reopen two more bakeries, in Indianapolis and Schiller Park, Ill., the third and fourth factories that the company has said it will restart after closing late last year due to failed negotiations with one of its largest unions.

Private equity firms Apollo Global Management, LLC and Metropoulos & Co., which teamed up to purchase the Hostess and Dolly Madison snack lines and five production sites for $410 million, are pushing hard to get the company back up and running. The Wall Street Journal reported they plan to invest $60 million and hire or rehire 1,500 workers nationwide between now and September.

“Hostess is very excited about relaunching the iconic Hostess brands, and is very pleased that it will be hiring a substantial number of employees in several markets in the U.S.,” the company, doing business as Hostess Brands LLC, said Monday in a news release.

This comes after the previous owners of Hostess declared bankruptcy last year and shut down in November. The closure followed years of losses and the failure to negotiate new concessions from its second-largest union, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers International Union.

That led labor critics to blame the bakers’ union for Hostess going out of business. Fred Wszolek, spokesman for the Workforce Fairness Institute, an anti-union group that advocates right-to-work policies, said overzealous union rules “strangled” the previous owners.

“Hostess didn’t fall down because they paid their employees well or gave them too many benefits,” Mr. Wszolek said. “They failed because they had too many employees doing too little work, because of union rules.”

Mr. Wszolek pointed to union rules like one that required Twinkies and Ho Hos to be delivered to the same store on two different trucks, and another rule that said the driver couldn’t unload Wonder Bread, but instead the company had to pay another worker to do that. He called those rules “ridiculous.”

He said he doesn’t expect the new workers to unionize when the shops reopen.

“It will be no wonder when the union organizing drive fails, because the new employees don’t want to suffer the same fate as the old employees,” he said.

But the new owners on Monday pushed back strongly against recent news reports that they would not hire union workers when they reopen. The company issued a news release that said the stories mischaracterized comments from the top executives.

“Several articles appearing in the press last week suggested that Hostess is opposed to having labor unions in its bakeries and is specifically seeking non-union workers,” the company said. “This is not the case. Hostess respects union rights and will not discriminate against job applications on the basis of union membership or union activities.

“None of the company representatives stated or intended to imply that Hostess will be avoiding union-represented employees or job applicants,” the company added.

Hostess announced last week it would reopen its first bakery in Columbus, Ga. The company plans to hire an initial 200 employees starting next month, and add another 100 jobs over the next several years.

The Columbus community, which has been recruiting the new owners of Hostess, expressed much excitement over regaining some of the jobs it lost. Hostess hosted a job fair there on Saturday.

“This bakery has been a vital part of the Columbus business community for more than 40 years, and we look forward to working with the new owners and management team as they continue to invest in the Hostess brands and in our community,” Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said.

Hostess has also announced plans to reopen its bakery in Emporia, Kan. The community lost 500 jobs when the plant shut down last year, but is excited to be getting up to 300 of them back.

“It’s good to get the jobs back,” said Kent Heermann, president of the Regional Development Association of East Central Kansas. “Normally, when a plant declares bankruptcy, you get no jobs, so anything above zero is great.”

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