Sunday, November 18, 2012

Kool-Aid Drinking Unions Kill Hostess

The first time I walked in there, I instantly noticed the hum of people mumbling. It was actually more sort of a low groan then actual conversations.

I didn't know if I was in a retirement home because of the old timers sitting around shooting the breeze with a few others who were playing cards. Yes, it was my first time to my Union hall since being laid off - and I have to admit that I expected something different.

By different, I mean busier. I expected phones ringing and people grabbing address slips heading out the door. But no, there was none of that. None at all.

The old timers were there waiting to be "called out" like pitchers needed in some game somewhere - but no they never really ever got called. And yes, later I wondered if they were still there.

When I walked up to the desk, the gal behind the counter slid open the glass window partition. Then without saying a hello, she asked me for my card and if I were current on my monthly dues.

After giving her my card, she opened the books and said I still owed for that month by a day or two and asked for the money.

As I was about to ask about work, she cut me off and said "that will be $39.00!" I paid her knowing that that was about the last money that I had left to eat on for the week.

Times were hard and a lot of people were out of work. I had only been out of the military for a year and the sporadic work had me broke and looking into moving back in with my folks.

She took the money and signed me into the book, handed me a receipt and started to close the window between us when I grabbed it and asked, "What about work?"

With as stern a look as I ever got from my 3rd grade teacher, she simply said, "Check back tomorrow" and closed the window.

So for the next few weeks, I checked back the next day and the next and the next, until I too knew everyone there in the Union Hall by first name. I checked back until I knew the stories of everyone of those guys whose companies had closed.

Most days, I showed up and checked in, then put a dime in the cup for a cup of coffee. Like many there, I'd bring a paper and sit there as that old clock just ticked away the hours.

I remember thinking how the numbers of guys coming in to put their names down on the books as being out of work grew steadily, and with every new guy coming in - I was pushed lower and lower on the list because I didn't have the seniority that they had.

You see, because of a deal with the union, the company that wanted me made a dead with the union for me to come in through the "backdoor" and work a shortened apprenticeship. The company and the union agreed because no one at the hall wanted to go to work on the roughneck crews that built buildings for that company. It was hard work and many in the hall were used to softer jobs.

Once work slowed down to a stop, I was laid off. I was new to the union game and I did what I was told to do. So every day, most days broke and hungry, I went to the hall and waited for my name to get called.

I did that everyday until one of the guys there asked me if I wanted me sit in on the card game. It was about that time that one old guy said, "Don't worry, you'll know your name when they call you." And yes, although I didn't, they enjoyed the laugh!

When I stopped going to the hall, I got a letter of Union warning me that I would be in big trouble of being tossed out of the union if they get one more report of me by-passing the hall and "soliciting" work on my own. That's right, they had rules against looking for a job on my own.

That was 1978, and I was new to a union in the Bay Area that made me promises and took my dues but never helped me find a job.

I left that union and went into a whole different line of work for a while. Then 7 years later, I had a chance to get back into the trades - but again I was faced with the fact that I had join the same Union.

After spending 7 years in the security industry, working 60 plus hours a week dealing with nasty sometimes extremely violent strikes all over the Bay Area, and after holding a full time schedule in school to get a degree in Criminal Justice, I noticed a lot about my own union that I was pretty blind to my first time around.

More and more I noticed that the unions were nothing but organized extortionists. Yes, organized extortionist - and as legal as the day is long. And yes, it seemed that my own union was really no different than the rest.

At first I thought nothing had changed in the union, except that the dues were higher. But then I started noticing how our Local's "Business Agents" looked to be even more crooked than before, it became obvious that they did not represent the guys who they supposedly represented. Instead, it was very obvious that they were just out for themselves.

It didn't matter if a member was laid off because work was slow, or if job sites weren't ready because of bad weather. As far as the union was concerned, you better pay your dues or else. And yes, while in the trades, I still kept my hand in the security industry as a "consultant" just to supplement what I wasn't making in the trades.

I did what I did so I'd be able to pay my bills and put food on my table.

Did my Local give a damn that work was slow or that our company couldn't compete with other companies? Did my union care that other companies may have been paying their workers less an hour but making more money a year because they were working all year around?

No they didn't. What mattered to them was their getting our dues in on times.

And when the company that I worked for closed, partially because of the greed and abuse of the five or six different unions involved with that company, did my union care enough to help me find another job? No they didn't.

What mattered to them was that, out of work or not, my dues better not be late. Yes, because my classification was a "specialty" within the union, after the company closed its door, my union brothers told me to take a hike. That happened, even though I was paid 6 months in advance on my dues. 

So now, Hostess closes its doors because of a union strike. And yes, Hostess now has had to lay off 18,500 workers.

Laid off after what is being called a "crippling" union fight. A fight that I can't help but wonder if it's more union greed?

When I heard the news, you'd be right if you thought that I immediately recalled my dealings with unions both as a member and in security.

Sure I thought of my own union troubles. But I also thought about the unions that I dealt with when I was supervising security guards during strike actions back in '79 and into the 1980s.

Time and time again, I saw labor unions of all different types take their people out on strike after strike only to see those companies close up. Completely out of work, no, the laid off strikers got no help afterwards from their unions.

Now an American Icon, Hostess, is gone.

Many believe that thanks to a labor union feeling emboldened by Mr Obama's re-election, that union's stubbornness in contract talks is to blamed for the shutdown of one of America's snack food icons.

And yes, let's not forget the loss of 18,500 jobs.

And really, it doesn't matter if it's the holidays. Some make a point of saying that this is a bad situation just before the holiday season. I say that this is a bad situation anytime, no matter when. And the horrible part of this, fact is is that these union members brought it on themselves.

The union representing bakery workers refused to agree to concessions, that's the bottom line of what it took to prompt the mass layoffs and closing down of hundreds of plants, yes hundreds of plants, bakeries and delivery routes.

"We deeply regret the necessity of today's decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike," Chief Executive Gregory Rayburn said in a statement. "Hostess Brands will move promptly to lay off most of its 18,500-member workforce and focus on selling its assets to the highest bidders."

The company said it will continue to ship out its well-known products until inventory runs out. Then like so many other things that greed kills, Hostess will be no more.

The national strike by members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) that began last week decimated the 82-year-old company’s ability to produce and deliver products at roughly 12 of its 33 plants.

The company announced earlier in the week that the ax would fall on Friday if the strikers didn’t get back to work, but the union either didn’t believe them or care.

BCTGM President Frank Hurt said Thursday that the crisis was the "result of nearly a decade of financial and operational mismanagement" and charged management was scapegoating workers to allow the Wall Street investors who own Hostess to sell.

Though it worked for Obama in his re-election bid, attacking Wall Street isn't a great idea during a strike - after all, it may be those Wall Street investors who are keeping you working.

But hey, in these days of making business the villain and bankers the criminals, it's no wonder that a union would ultimately be responsible for the loss of 18,500 jobs but blame it on Wall Street.

BCTGM President Frank Hurt sounds like an idiot to me. What did he expect when a company says come back to work or we have to close the doors. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see it happening all over the country.

And honestly, I don't know how old this guy Hurt really is, but I have a feeling that like many today - he probably has not had to live through hard times until these last 4 years.

His ignorance is in his remark, "Hostess failed because its six management teams over the last eight years were unable to make it a profitable successful business enterprise."

OK, let's for a moment take what Hurt said as the truth. Then that makes him a bigger jerkweed than I thought he was. Why? Well, it has everything to do with Labor Negotiations 101: the basics of getting what you want and need in a new contract.

The first rule: Never ask for more from a company that you know is "unable to make it a profitable successful business enterprise."

Whether it's 33 years ago, or today, it never ceases to amaze me that unions have horrible timing. Instead of going to a company when the company is doing well and asking for more when the company can afford to give it - and maybe agreeing to make things work when times get bad - no, that's not what unions historically do.

They always go after a company for more about the time a company is at its lowest point. Wrong time to get anything. Let's face it, when the cow goes dry is a hell of time to demand more milk.

And listen to the frustration by Marty Zimmerman, secretary-treasurer for BCTGM Local 85, who told Fox40 from a Sacramento picket line on Friday that workers had been at “wits end” with Hostess brass.

“Well, the mindset is we’re standing strong, absolutely,” Zimmerman told the station. “I mean, they’ve taken our pensions away, we’ve had seven CEOs in the last 10 years; this company has been so mismanaged. Really, we’re at our wits end and enough is enough"

And yes, according to the BCTGM Union website, they all knew that the company wasn't doing well.

Their website states: "In 2011, Hostess earned profits of more than $2.5 billion but ended the year with a loss of $341 million as it struggled to pay the interest on $1 billion in debt. This year, the company sought bankruptcy protection, the second time in eight years."

So really, if that's the case, and you know that jobs are hard to come by in a dismal economy, then why strike?  I've seen it before, but I've never had the opportunity to ask, why?

Why wouldn't you wait and maybe even help the company come out of trouble before asking for more? Why go on strike if you know that there is a chance that you will kill the cow and that not one of the 18,500 workers there will get milk?

To me, it seems suicidal!

In a letter to employees posted on the company’s website, Hostess Chief Executive Gregory Rayburn said that all employees would eventually lose their jobs - some sooner than others.

"Many people have worked incredibly long and hard to keep this from happening, but now Hostess Brands has no other alternative than to begin the process of winding down and preparing for the sale of our iconic brands," Rayburn’s letter read.

“As you know, for many months the Company has been working with our unions, lenders and other stakeholders to reach a consensual resolution to legacy costs and labor contracts. Despite everyone’s considerable efforts to move Hostess out of its restructuring, when we began implementing the Company’s last, best and final offer, the Bakers Union chose to stage a crippling strike.”

The liberal agenda has helped kill Hostess and put these folks out of work. Fact is that Hostess has struggled for several years now. Some blame the liberal agenda and their desire to control our lives to the closing of this company. Some compare the closing to a stabbing - and liberal and Obama administration and especially the First Lady are the knife wielding assailants who for 4 years have demonized snack foods.

The company sought concessions from employees, but instead got a costly strike that just killed the company's ability to function. Sad actually, but usually mass suicide is sad.

According to officials, who told a federal bankruptcy court, Hostess would lose up to $9.5 million from Nov. 9 to Nov. 19 in lost sales and increased costs. The company has cancelled all orders in process and said any baked goods currently in transit would be returned to shippers.

“These losses and other factors, including increased vendor payment terms contraction, have resulted in a significant weakening of the debtors’ cash position and, if continued, would soon result in the debtors completely running out of cash,” the filing read.

Hostess will now sell its popular brands like Ding Dongs, Ho Ho’s and Sno Balls, along with the closure of 565 distribution centers, 570 bakery outlet stores and roughly 5,550 delivery routes.

Lenders have agreed to allow Hostess to continue to access $75 million in financing put in place at the start of the bankruptcy cases to fund the sale and wind-down process, subject to U.S. Bankruptcy Court approval.

So now, let's talk about a group of hard-heads who were all apparent drinking the same Kool-Aid. 

According to the BCTGM website, "The Bakery and Confectionery Workers International Union of America, one of the pioneers of the North American labor movement, was organized in 1886. In 1957, the American Bakery and Confectionery Workers’ International Union was formed. In 1969, the two organizations united.

The Tobacco Workers International Union was founded in 1895 and was also in the forefront of the labor movement. As it and the Bakery and Confectionery Workers’ International Union of America shared many common goals, both organizations came to realize that those goals could best be achieved through a merger. That merger, creating the BC&T, took place in 1978.

... In 1936, the National Council of Grain Processors was formed when federal grain milling unions agreed to unite as a national union under the AFL. In 1941, the council was renamed the American Federation of Grain Processors and in 1948 was granted an international charter as the AFGM.

Shared goals and industries caused the January 1, 1999 merger between the BC&T and AFGM, resulting in the BCTGM."

So friends, this is not a new union. These guys have been around a while. They understood what can take place in a strike against a company that is having financial troubles.

Those strikers knew that their livelihood was in definite trouble if they went out on strike, yet they still went on strike. And yes, to a guy like me who always worried about finding work, that's a big deal because it goes to the heart of why 18.500 workers are out of work right now.

Fact is that the trust the union members had in their union bosses, and the lack of trust in their company, tells a lot about where their heads were at. It tells a lot about the whole feeling of power that unions are feeling these days- in especially since Obama was re-elected.  

So now, now that the BCTGM has successfully killed Hostess, where do 18,500 Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) members and Teamsters find jobs?

Does their Union have positions for them in case this would take place? No they don't!

Is the Union going to suspend their monthly dues so that those out of work don't have to pay their monthly dues? No way!  And as a word of advise, those dues better be paid on time - or else.

Is either Frank Hurt or Marty Zimmerman out of jobs? Probably not. After all, they are paid by the Unions. And yes, that's why they will demand that those out of work members still pay their dues.

BCTGM Union President Frank Hurt said, “Throughout this long and difficult process, BCTGM members showed tremendous courage,solidarity and devotion to principle. They were well aware of the potential consequences of their actions but stood strong for dignity, justice and respect.”

Imagine that! There are 18,500 Americans out of work because they wouldn't work with their employer a little more than they would have wanted to - and now their Union President is telling them that they can feel good about being out of work.

Many years ago, through my own experiences both as a union member and working to make sure that strikers didn't harm people or destroy too much property, I learned that labor unions are all about money and power.

I can't help but wonder how much money the Teamsters and the BCTGM Union gave Obama his re-election? I can't help but wonder just how emboldened Unions have become since his re-election victory?

"Drinking the Kool-Aid” is a phrase commonly used in America to refer to a person or group’s blind, uncritical belief in an ideology, argument, or philosophy.

It is a metaphor that is a direct reference to the November 1978 Jonestown Massacre, where 913 members of the Peoples Temple cult were said to have committed suicide by drinking a cyanide-laced, “Kool-Aid“- like drink.


Blind faith and the deaths of members of the People’s Temple was a fact. Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones had staged many rehearsals for the event in which the drink contained no poison, which made many cult members believe that the drink would be harmless.

This is very similar to easy strikes versus tough strikes. Easy strike are sort of a practice session for the tough ones. And yes, some strikes are relatively painless - almost feeling harmless - while other are company killers.

And that can go also for the union talk, that some take unquestionably as the truth. Their rhetoric is designed to motivate and incite blind loyalty from those who want to follow what the unions are pushing. Yes, unions and the Peoples Temple cult have a lot in common.

After reading some of the rhetoric that has come out of the unions, I can't help but think that the members really believed that they could cripple Hostess ability to operate - and yet still get what they want in their contract. Yes, both at the same time.

I know it makes no sense, but those drinking that Kool-Aid that most unions hand out aren't using a lot of logic in their thinking.

It's all emotion driven. It must be, because there is not a whole lot of logic in demanding more from a company that simply doesn't have any more to give.

It appears that the unions were after blood, after that cow went dry of milk.

Story by Tom Correa

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