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November 20, 2012

Twinkies to stick around? Judge orders talks between Hostess management and bakers' union

(Continued)

Hostess, weighed down by debt, management turmoil, rising labor costs and the changing tastes of America, decided on Friday that it no longer could make it through a conventional Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring. Instead, the company, which is based in Irving, Texas, asked the court for permission to sell assets and go out of business.

It's not the sequence of events that the maker of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Ho's envisioned when it filed for bankruptcy in January, its second Chapter 11 filing in less than a decade. The company, which said that it was saddled with costs related to its unionized workforce, had hoped to emerge with stronger financials. It brought on Rayburn as a restructuring expert and was working to renegotiate its contract with labor unions.

But Rayburn wasn't able to reach a deal with the bakery union. The company, which had been contributing $100 million a year in pension costs for workers, offered workers a new contract that would've slashed that to $25 million a year, in addition to wage cuts and a 17 percent reduction in health benefits. But the bakery union decided to strike.

By that time, the company had reached a contract agreement with its largest union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which urged the bakery union to hold a secret ballot on whether to continue striking. Although many bakery workers decided to cross picket lines this week, Hostess said it wasn't enough to keep operations at normal levels.

Rayburn said that Hostess was already operating on razor thin margins and that the strike was the final blow. The company's announcement on Friday that it would move to liquidate prompted people across the country to rush to stores and stock up on their favorite Hostess treats. Many businesses reported selling out of Twinkies within hours and the spongy yellow cakes turned up for sale online for hundreds of dollars.

Even if Hostess goes out of business, its popular brands will likely find a second life after being snapped up by buyers. The company says several potential buyers have expressed interest in the brands. Although Hostess' sales have been declining in recent years, the company still does about $2.5 billion in business each year. Twinkies along brought in $68 million so far this year.

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