The Kansas City Star has failed their local community by publishing an absolutely false representation of events in the Hostess strike. Apparently you can insinuate whatever you want as long as you label it 'Opinion'.
The Star's resident business genius/trust fund baby Steve Rose has blessed local workers with his analysis. The problem is that he appears to have no actual knowledge of the events at Hostess from the workers perspective. He is debating a paper tiger of his own creation.
In November, the Kansas City Star breathlessly reported the companies PR sheet without verifying any of the facts. I offered to post the workers side of the story on their feature "Midwest Voices" at the time. I was told it couldn't happen because they would have to give equal time to the Hostess side of the story. Apparently that standard does not extend both ways.
Mr. Rose, who has never suffered for money, blows his credibility in the very first sentences.
The Hostess unions thought they held a royal flush. As it turns out, they weren’t even in the game.Now that is a paper tiger statement if I have ever seen one. The Union told us that if we went on strike we would likely lose our jobs and have to start over. They told us that no matter how we voted, yes or no, our pension was gone. They said when new owners came along they would not want the Union back. They also told us we could find better than $11 an hour somewhere else. I would say they nailed it.
At no time did anyone think we had a 'royal flush'. We knew we were getting hosed no matter what. Of course, Mr. Rose has no idea what the Union thought because he has never spoken with a Bakers Union member.
His numbers don't even add up. He says...
Where once there were 11 bakeries, now there will be only five, including one in Emporia, Kan., where eventually 300 workers will be employed. Where once there were 18,500 in the Hostess organization, there will be only 1,500 under new ownership.First he refers to 11 bakeries when in fact there were 33. Only 3 are known will never reopen again. All 3 have been scheduled to be closed for years. All 3 voted for the strike. The other thirty bakeries were purchased along with the brands. Flowers purchased 20 bakeries and still has made no announcements of their intentions. Does Mr. Rose assume Flowers bought them to store dust? He doesn't include Beefsteak that was bought by Bimbo's (Union made). He doesn't count the bakeries that were bought alongside the brands Sweetheart and Drake Cakes. And yet he declares "there will be only 1500 (jobs) under new ownership." I will take that bet right now Mr. Rose. I'll put my unemployment check up against the $7400 they collected from my hourly wage for my pension but kept for their bonuses. Can you cover it?
And now for Mr. Rose to repeat the dime-a-dozen anti-Union myth that follows every Union story around the media.
The unionized bakers at Hostess were bringing in twice the national average, according to information from the U.S. Department of Labor. That wage scale, plus pensions, made Hostess uncompetitive.There are several things wrong with this assumption.
1) it is inaccurate. Hostess workers made slightly less than the national average for large scale production baking. That statistic only works if
2) you include small scale grocery store and restaurant style baking. While I have the utmost respect for those workers it is simply not the same industry. The appropriate comparison is General Mills, Kelloggs, or Bimbo's (all three are better paid than Hostess). Mr. Rose is including apples in his average of oranges.
3) He also implies the pension was an expense of the company. He is intentionally ignoring that our pension was an unmatched self contribution. It was an expense to me, coming directly from my wages.
Mr. Rose will be unable to 'show his work' without including small scale retail bakers. He will not apologize or acknowledge this distortion. You would expect more from the Kansas City Star though. I would hope they would want their opinion columnists to at least be honest about the facts and events.
Mr. Rose appears to think it is good for the economy when jobs pay less and less over time. He is celebrating one industries compensation standards being lowered to that of a retail job. You know the old Capitalist slogan "A lower tide strands all boats.' Talk about the race to the bottom.
This illustrates why business geniuses/trust fund babies are terrible economists. They don't understand the scope of the economy. He forgets that the economy includes every person and not just his personal circle of friends. The economy cannot be strong if the middle class is shrinking, no matter how well the stock market does.
His entire analysis hangs by this thread.
Hostess asked the unions to roll back their pay and warned the company could not survive with the cost structure the way it was. Ignoring them instead, the bakers went on strike.What is he talking about? Did we ignore them when we gave concessions in the previous contract? It was hard to ignore the daily assault on our ever shrinking paychecks. We certainly didn't ignore the letter from the hedge funds that 'borrowed' our pension contributions. And who could ignore a generous offer of $11 an hour?!
There was one thing the hedge funds ignored though. That we were 100% certain we could do better than $11 an hour with no pension somewhere else. What possible motivation was there to take the offer? To keep the job? I didn't lose the job I had. I lost the job they were trying to force down my throat. If we had taken their contract we would have been trapped in a dead end job. Mr. Rose illustrates he has no respect for the people who did those jobs by assuming they cannot beat the measly $24,000 a year Hostess offered. I am curious how much he thinks these jobs should pay. Is $24,000 still too much? What does he think is appropriate?
Let me clear up any confusion for Mr. Rose. I worked an average of 44 hours a week and brought home $34,000 before taxes in the last year of business, the year they stole our pension. If that is overpaid then this nation is screwed.
Where does my $34,000 fit in? They did $2.5B in sales but lost $341M that year. They could have paid the Bakers nothing and still lost money. Do the math:
8400(Bakers)X$40K=$336M. They lost $341M.
If they wanted to increase profit they should have focused on sales, not labor.
Mr.Rose has completely ignored anything the Union has said or done that doesn't line up with his storyline. His only quote from the Union is meant to insinuate Union incompetence. Yet....
The union president was quoted as saying, “The only way to have a seamless restart would be to hire back unionized bakers. Only our members know how to get that equipment running,” he boasted.Perhaps Mr. Rose would like to speculate as to why there haven't been any 'seamless restarts' yet. Speculation seems to be his specialty.
And then there is this gem.
This is reminiscent of the 1981 confrontation between the air controllers and President Ronald Reagan.He then continues to compare a current issue he knows nothing about to a strike 30+ years ago that had radically different issues. Why do I suspect he knows little about it either? We were not asking for better pay or conditions. We were trying to stop the bleeding. It is hard to cope with a pay cut year after year. I was down $14,000 a year over the course of the final 5 years in business. They were going to reduce it by another $10,000 over the next five years.
Hostess unions either did not learn from that event (air controllers), or they chose to ignore it. They were arrogant, thinking Hostess was bluffing and would not shut down — or if it did, a new owner would have to hire them back.Again with the paper tiger. NO one ever said they would 'not shut down' or that new owners would 'have to hire them back'. We knew the risks at the time. We have been proven right that we could do better than their 'offer'.
The fact is that most of the former workers I know are in no need of this $11 an hour non-career. Now that we have moved into the retraining phase of the TAA (Trade Adjustment Act) the vast majority are moving into schooling for new, better paid fields. If Congress really wants to improve the economy they ought to look at expanding the TAA, it is fantastic. Would it be rude to guess that Mr. Rose is opposed to the TAA?
The new bakery owners are going to have a hard time getting experienced bakers. You know, the invisible hand and what not. These new bakery owners may discriminate against former workers for the time being, but they will shift over time. There will be so few interested veteran bakers that any who walk through the door will be appreciated. I guess that means the Bakers Union predictions were right all along. We will do better than $11 an hour.
For the record I will be purchasing Sara Lee bread from now on, which at least in my area is Union made and is a fine product. I know some people at the plant in Topeka and I have total confidence in the safety and quality of their product. I wish I could say the same about the standards at the KC Star.