Hostess shutdown puts 600 out of work in northern Utah

Published: Friday, Nov. 16 2012 5:00 p.m. MST

Irma Holleman has a hard time finding Hostess products at the Hostess Bakery Thriftshop in Salt Lake City Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. Hostess decided to liquidate the company Friday after a labor dispute.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

OGDEN — A truck driver with 45,000 pounds of sugar was turned away from the Hostess plant on Lincoln Avenue Friday after the company's top officials indefinitely halted operations at the facility and others nationwide.

"I sat around for an hour and a half … and then got a call to take the sugar someplace else," said Rocky Ridge, a driver for Idaho-based Handy Truck Line.

Employees at the factory — which has turned out truckloads of donuts, breads, cupcakes and other baked goods for several decades — seemed to have been expecting the move by higher-ups to liquidate the company, he said.

"I'd imagine quite a few of them, probably 80 percent, don't know what they'll do now."

None of the roughly 600 workers at the Ogden facility had joined in the union-led protests, which eventually brought the battle between company executives and workers to a stalemate.

Randy Vigil, who has worked for Hostess for 15 years, said he hoped the company would have found a solution "for those who kept working."

"There's a lot of anxiety, wondering what you're going to do next," the Ogden father of four said. "There's a lot of three- or four-generation employees in there. I don't know what they'll do."

Vigil said he'll collect unemployment and "try to start over."

"That's it. It's the end," he said. "They're going to lock the doors at 5 today."

Hostess Bakery Outlet stores across the state were hit with customers Friday, many hoping to snatch up the last of what was expected to be available to consumers. The company's request for permission from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to close down and sell off all its brands signaled an end to nearly 124 years of production of Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Wonder Bread and more of Hostess' nostalgic brands.

Social media sites were also flooded with photos of emptied store shelves where Hostess products had been displayed.

The move will shut down 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers and 570 outlet stores nationwide, as well as lay off 18,500 employees.

"It feels, in our community, that they got in an emotional tug-of-war and pulled the cord out of the wall and left all these people who have given so much of their lives to this company holding the bag," said Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell. "It's a heartbreaking day for all these families that are affected."

He said the iconic bakery was part of the culture of Ogden.

"You could tell what they were baking by the smells that were wafting through the air on any given day," Caldwell said, adding that it will be missed.

While it is unknown what will happen to the company's property, building and equipment, Caldwell said the former employees shouldn't have to worry. He said Ogden's "robust economy" can absorb the local job losses. In the near future, the mayor expects the Division of Workforce Services to host a job fair specifically aimed at those whom Hostess has laid off.

"I knew it was going to come. I knew it was going to happen. But now that it has happened, it's a reality check," said Sam Grange, who has worked for Hostess for 25 years. "It still hurts a lot. A lot of my coworkers feel the same way. We feel it has been gross mismanagement of funds. They went through bankruptcy before and didn't learn."

Grange is unsure what will happen to his pension, which was the main focus of thousands of members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union who went on strike when Hostess officials said they could no longer pay the full benefit.

The company threatened to close its doors earlier this week if more workers did not return to production lines. Hostess CEO Greg Rayburn has said the company was already operating on thin margins and that the strike was a final blow.

Hostess' bankruptcy is expected to have a ripple effect in the economy of various gas stations, convenience stores, grocery stores and thrift shops across the country. Sales of the once popular confections were already low, due to what some believe was intense competition from other snack foods, as well as a desire among the American people to eat better.

Issac Cook stops by the outlet store occasionally to grab "a quick bit to eat" when she hasn't had time for breakfast or lunch at home.

"It's Hostess bakery, it's the place to go to get snacks or something in your system," she said. "I really don't want to see the bakery shut down. I feel bad for the people who lose their jobs."

Contributing: Mike Anderson, AP

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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