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Hostess says liquidation decision expected Friday
Thursday - 11/15/2012, 6:12pm EST
NEW YORK (AP) - Hostess Brands Inc. said it likely won't make an announcement until Friday morning on whether it will move to liquidate its business, after the company had set a Thursday deadline for striking employees to return to work.
The maker of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread had warned employees that would file a motion in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to unwind its business and sell off assets if plant operations didn't return to normal levels by 5 p.m. EST Thursday. That would result in the loss of about 18,000 jobs.
A spokesman for Hostess, Lance Ignon, said the company would likely make an announcement Friday after assessing plant operations Thursday evening.
Hostess, based in Irving, Texas, has already reached a contract agreement with its largest union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. But thousands of members in its second-biggest union went on strike late last week after rejecting in September a contract offer that cut wages and benefits. Officials for the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union say the company stopped contributing to workers' pensions last year.
In an interview with Fox Business, Hostess CEO Gregory Rayburn said many workers have already crossed picket lines this week to go back to work despite warnings by union leadership that they'd be fined.
"The problem is we don't have enough crossing those lines to maintain normal production," said Rayburn, who first joined Hostess earlier this year as a restructuring expert.
Hostess says that production at about a dozen of the company's 33 plants has been seriously affected by the strike. Three plants were closed earlier this week.
A representative for the bakery-workers union did not respond to request for comment. The Teamsters meanwhile are urging the smaller union to hold a secret ballot on whether to continue striking. Citing its financial experts who had access to the company's books, the Teamsters say that Hostess' warning of liquidation is "not an empty threat or a negotiating tactic" but a certain outcome if workers continue striking.
The Teamsters also noted that the strike put its union members in the "horrible position" of deciding whether to cross picket lines.
Hostess, a privately held company, filed for Chapter 11 protection in January, its second trip through bankruptcy court in less than a decade. The company cited increasing pension and medical costs for employees as one of the drivers behind its latest filing. Hostess has argued that workers must make concessions for it to exit bankruptcy and improve its financial position.
The company, founded in 1930, is fighting battles beyond labor costs, however. Competition is increasing in the snack space and Americans are increasingly conscious about healthy eating. Hostess also makes Dolly Madison, Drake's and Nature's Pride snacks.
Hostess said it would file the motion to liquidate Friday if needed, with a hearing scheduled for Monday. If the motion is granted, Hostess would begin closing operations as early as Tuesday.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)