Consuming the Hostess

Union appears to have gobbled up snack maker's future, 18,000 jobs

America’s recent mourning for Twinkies, Ding Dongs and other Hostess products does the heart good, even if the junk food does not.

But the hand-wringing over those beloved snacks has really obscured the more important point: that a company and a union tangled in the water until both drowned, leaving 18,000 more Americans without jobs. Court-ordered mediation this week between labor and management, which failed, appeared to be their last lifeline.

Making the tragedy all the more outrageous is the fact that the Teamsters had argued passionately for the company’s Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers International Union members to accept the company’s last offer.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters – which had accepted Hostess’ final offer – said in a statement last week that the bakery union members would be “truly heard” if they were allowed to cast secret ballots. Instead, the bakers’ union called a voice vote, which defeated the offer and forced Hostess into liquidation.

(Of course, that’s a rich irony, given the fact that unions are pressing hard to eliminate secret ballots for employee votes over whether to form unions. Apparently they don’t want employees to be “truly heard” until they’re in a union.)

Hostess lost $300 million in 2011. And the Teamsters warned their other union colleagues that “Teamster Hostess members and all Hostess employees should know (the company’s liquidation) is not an empty threat or a negotiating tactic, but the certain outcome if members of the (bakery union) continue to strike. This is based on conversations with our financial experts, who, because the Teamsters were involved in the legal process, had access to financial information about the company.”

The bakery union reportedly struck without even notifying their Teamsters brethren.

Unions have a proud history in post-industrial America. They paid heavy prices to improve working conditions for Americans who were exploited and abused by far too many factory owners.

But concerns over employee safety and working conditions were ultimately taken on by the government. Whereas union membership used to be about a third of the workforce, it’s now about 7 percent in the private sector. Among public workers, however, union membership is now over a third.

It won’t help the unions’ image that one of them apparently has consumed the company its members work for – throwing 18,000 people, union and non, out of work at the worst possible time in the worst economy in memory.

Even the Teamsters tried to prevent it.

“This is the problem with labor unions,” writes James Sherk, senior policy analyst in labor economics at The Heritage Foundtion think tank. “They make companies less nimble, less competitive. A unionized firm takes longer to respond to changing market conditions. It has to negotiate any changes with the union, and unions are not always reasonable. So unionized companies invest less, make less and create fewer jobs than non-union firms. Over time they wither away. ... This is why union membership hit a record low in 2012. ...

“It’s not hard to see why. Who wants their company to wind up like Hostess? Or General Motors? Or U.S. Steel? Or American Airlines? The list goes on and on. Polls show that just 10 percent of non-union workers want to organize.”

But again, unions actually want the law changed to eliminate the secret ballot in votes on whether to form unions – in the hope there would be more of them.

What kind of Ding Dongs do they take Americans for?

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