Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Baker’s Union Burns Hostess, Teamsters, And Members

twinkieThe Hostess Baker’s Union is back and ready to be more destructive than ever. And as details emerge from what happened behind the scenes during the November strike that led to the company’s liquidation, it’s clear that the plans of union officials are never completely baked.

As the first bidders on the bankrupt snack and bread company have begun to pop up, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) union is planning to hamstring the buyers before the checks are even signed.

Peter Kaufman of the Gordian Group, the firm representing BCTGM in the bankruptcy, dropped a bombshell on CNBC anchor Brian Sullivan this week. Kaufman said that the union officials wanted to warn buyers that they would consider asking the AFL-CIO to add Hostess products to its boycott list if union members were not rehired.

“That seems aggressive. That seems, in some ways, counterproductive,” said Sullivan. He’s right. And the Dallas Observer’s report on the Hostess disaster tells us that being counterproductive is what BCTGM officials do best.

The Observer tries to tell a story about corporate greed and the people hurt by it. That includes Mike Hummel, who appeared on CNBC with our Managing Director J. Justin Wilson. But later in the story, we learn more about why BCTGM members like Hummel were so convinced that a destructive strike was the best option.

The article reveals that the negotiations were completely mismanaged by BCTGM, starting in 2010. Leaders “sat out most of the talks” with Hostess and the Teamsters. When the time came to consider a new deal, which gave members stock in Hostess, the Teamsters approved it, but the baker’s rejected it. Frank Hurt, then the president of the international, declared “I would never sign this piece of crap.”

But why? The Observer reports:

A source familiar with the negotiations says the bakers union reps had approached a private-equity firm about taking a stake in Hostess. The deal the bakers union bosses proposed could be less painful for their membership, but one of its central tenets was laughably outlandish. For it to work, Hostess would have to eliminate all Teamster drivers from its delivery force. Such a plan, for obvious reasons, wouldn’t fly, couldn’t even get off the ground. Yet it may be one reason why the bakers union leadership was so hostile to the deal on the table — it simply thought it could do better. Or it did, until that prospect fell through. 

So much for brotherhood — the BCTGM was ready to cut out the Teamsters for its own gain. When those officials didn’t get what they wanted, the Observer explains how they led members over the cliff:

Then they virtually assured the bargain all the other parties had worked for would fail. Instead of mailing out ballots to its membership, like the Teamsters had, they held voice votes in their union halls. After all, who wanted to be the guy saying, “Wait up, fellas, let’s think about this for a minute,” after his brothers and sisters next to him had already thundered “Hell no!”?

Yet another reason why the secret ballot provisions of the Employee Rights Act are necessary.

Worse yet, the article also shows how BCTGM officials misled members into thinking that they would eventually have to face a 27 percent pay cut. Meanwhile, the Teamsters and Hostess said that was not the case — and that their salaries would actually be, eventually, restored. Hummel’s confounding argument with Wilson on CNBC finally makes sense. As he told the Dallas Observer, he thought it meant he would lose his house.

So as Hummel and other union members around the country struggle, they’re joined by their brothers and sisters in Minnesota, who are locked out because of the BCTGM’s hardline stance against American Crystal Sugar. 

Who knows what BCTGM officials have in mind, but the best interests of its members are far from it.

Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActEnding Secret Ballots