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Hostess' union workers could strike over contract, wages

Union workers at Hostess Brands, which operates several bakeries in Maryland, have announced that they will strike if wage cuts and an "unfair" contract is imposed while the company undergoes bankruptcy proceedings.

Hostess is of course the maker of commercial baked goods such as Twinkies, Ho Hos and Wonderbread. The company operates about 36 bakeries throughout the country, including one in Rockville, Maryland, and it has recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Teamsters represent about 40 percent of the company's employees and they have announced they will strike if a judge allows the company to terminate commitments it has made to union employees.

Hostess is in its second bankruptcy since 2004, and its new employment contracts would withdraw pension plans, bring down the costs of long-term employee benefits and change the terms of collective bargaining agreements. A hearing will be held on the company's proposal in March.

The Teamsters have said that Hostess workers have made sacrifices in the past, but have not seen the company grow.

In a statement published by Reuters, the director of the Teamsters Bakery and Laundry Conference said, "While we remain committed to finding a solution to save the company, it won't be done solely on the backs of our members and Hostess employees."

Hostess employs about 19,000 people, who belong mostly to 12 separate unions. None of the other unions have threatened to strike, but The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which represents about 6,000 Hostess employees, has criticized the company for not improving after union members made concessions in the previous bankruptcy.

Hostess reportedly has about $860 million in debt.

Employment contract issues can be upsetting and even emotionally debilitating, even for those that have the bargaining power of a union. This has been witnessed in the past in many American towns when major employment strikes have worn on communities.

Many employees in the D.C. area do not have the backing of a union when entering into an employment contract. For many individual employees, it is best to have an employment law professional review any employment contracts that you may enter. This can help not only for negotiation purposes, but also to ensure you understand what you are signing.

Source: Reuters, "Hostess' Teamsters members may strike-union," Nick Brown, Feb. 13, 2012

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