Workers at Hostess Brands’ Schiller Park bakery were blindsided by news Wednesday that the company plans to close the plant where the iconic Twinkie snack cake was invented more than 84 years ago.
“When we heard the news, it was shocking to us as well as our membership there,” said Donald Woods, president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 1. “They were working like 12 hours, six days a week, and they were looking for this plant to be a part of their future.”
Hostess said Wednesday it expects to close the plant in October “to enhance its production and distribution capabilities and efficiencies.”
About 400 employees will be affected by the closing. Roughly 85 workers are employed on a contingent basis at the plant, which also makes Sno Balls and Ho Hos.
“The employees feel devastated because in May of this year the workers there voted to rejoin the [union],” Woods said. ”We were in the process of negotiating a contract with the group.”
Twinkies and other Hostess snack cakes returned to store shelves in July 2013 after the former Hostess company filed bankruptcy during a battle with its union workers.
Hostess brands were sold off in chunks to different buyers. Its major bread brands including Wonder were sold to Flowers Foods, which makes Tastykakes. McKee Foods, which makes Little Debbie snack cakes, snapped up Drake’s Cake, which includes Devil Dogs and Yodels.
Metropoulos & Co. and Apollo bought Twinkies and other Hostess cakes for $410 million.
“Hostess has brought these great brands back to the marketplace,” Hostess Brands chief executive Bill Toler said in announcing the planned bakery closure. “We have invested heavily in all facilities to improve worker conditions and efficiencies in a very highly competitive environment and marketplace.
“While the old Hostess company was in bankruptcy, many competitors took over the shelves and are tenaciously defending their business and thus we must be highly efficient and technologically advanced to compete.”
Woods said after the Schiller Park bakery reopened a little over a year ago, workers were told that it would be around for the long-term.
“That’s what they expected and what we expected.” he said.
The Schiller Park bakery is the company’s last remaining bakery in Illinois. Two other bakeries operated in the state closed in 2012.
The company says it will provide severance packages as well as outplacement services.
Woods said the union will seek to negotiate provisions to provide an opportunity for workers to relocate to other plants. The union represents about 400 workers at Hostess plants in Indiana and Georgia. Workers there also were rorganized this year, he said.
The Twinkie was invented in Schiller Park in April 1930 by Continental Baking Co. bakery manager James Dewar who was trying different ways to put unused shortcake pans to work.