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Twinkie maker Hostess to close; Illinois workers to lose jobs

Chris Pruitt center striking Hostess employee from PeoriIll. plant joins workers outside Hostess Plant Schiller Park Ill. Thursday November 15

Chris Pruitt, center, a striking Hostess employee from the Peoria, Ill. plant, joins workers outside of a Hostess Plant in Schiller Park, Ill., on Thursday, November 15, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Twinkie: a
Chicago invention

The Twinkie was born April 6, 1930, in Schiller Park when Continental Baking Co. bakery manager James Dewar created it. Dewar was trying different ways to put unused shortcake pans to work. Usually short cake “fingers” were filled with strawberries, but the fruit was out of season, and so Dewar decided to fill them with banana cream. At two for a nickel, Twinkies became the most popular and affordable treat during the Great Depression. The filling was changed to vanilla cream when bananas became scarce during World War II.

Twinkie facts:

◆ 500 million are baked each year.

◆ Each takes 10 minutes to bake.

◆ Each has 150 calories.

◆ Their shelf life is 26 days.

Source: Hostess Brands, Sun-Times archives

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Updated: December 19, 2012 12:51PM

Hostess Brands says it is going out of business, closing plants that make Twinkies and Wonder Bread and laying off all of its 18,500 workers.

The Irving, Texas, company says a nationwide worker strike crippled its ability to make and deliver its products at several locations.

Hostess had warned employees that it would file a motion in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to unwind its business and sell assets if plant operations didn’t return to normal levels by Thursday evening.

The privately held company filed for Chapter 11 protection in January, its second trip through bankruptcy court in less than a decade.

On Thursday evening at the home of the Twinkie in Schiller Park, about 30 bakers honoring the strike huddled outside of the plant where 297 workers bake Twinkies, CupCakes, HoHos and Honey Buns.

The group, which was not officially on strike but was supporting striking colleagues, spoke quietly among themselves.

At 4 p.m. — deadline time — a worker from inside the bakery came out and handed checks to the bakers standing outside.

One worker hollered “my last check,” and another said “I’m on vacation next week.”

Though the mood was light — there were no protest signs or chants — workers were concerned about their fate.

“We hope the union and the company come to a concensus,” said Hakim Archer, a dough mixer in the HoHo production line in Schiller Park who has worked for the company for 15 years. “It’s kind of scary. You’ve wasted half your life — we’ve got our pension tied up in this.”

But one man, who declined to give his name but said he’d been with the company 26 years, said “This ain’t the only place to work.”

Most of the people standing in solidarity said they were told by union officials not to speak to the media.

In the Chicago area, Hostess also has a bakery in Hodgkins, where 325 workers make Beefsteak, Butternut, Home Pride, Nature’s Pride and Wonder breads. Those workers also are not on strike.

The local union president did not respond to requests for comment.

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 a contract offer that cut wages and benefits in September. Some 18,000 workers would lose their jobs if the company were liquidated.

Officials for the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union say the company stopped contributing to workers’ pensions last year.

The Teamsters urged 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.

Tom Becker, a spokesman for Hostess, said the company would likely make an announcement Friday. Production at about a dozen of its 33 plants has been seriously affected by the strike.

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, founded in 1930, is fighting battles beyond labor costs. 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.

While social media lit up with comments from people bemoaning the death of Twinkies and other favorite treats, if the company liquidates, the recipes, intellectual property and other assets would likely be sold.

“I hear people say they’re worried about losing the Twinkie,” Archer said. “I didn’t [know] people like Twinkies like they do.”

Contributing: AP

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