Wednesday, November 21, 2012

So long, Ho Hos: a taste of vulture capitalism

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 10:45 AM

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Last week brought the sad news that Hostess, the maker of Twinkies, Ho Hos and other sugary products, was firing 18,000 workers and shutting down its business, blaming its unionized workforce for being too costly.

Formerly known as Interstate Bakeries, Hostess had been struggling through previous bankruptcies despite selling more than $2 billion in products last year. The decision means that not only are thousands without jobs, it means no more Ding Dongs, Hostess Fruit Pies or Wonder Bread.

Those brands will probably survive after the bankruptcy court sells off the assets of Hostess to other companies. But the workers who helped produce those products are on the street looking for work.

Predictably, the media is blaming the unions for causing the loss of middle-class jobs. A more correct observation is that these jobs were middle-class because they were unionized. They were lost due to corporate mismanagement, greed and a need to cut workers' pay.

An article by a former Hostess worker on the website shows just how much the company was demanding from its workers prior to closure: 27 percent in wage cuts over the next five years, a doubling of insurance costs and the elimination of all pension plans.

The worker states he was making $48,000 a year in 2005 and, under the company's new scheme, would gross just $25,000 in five years. "It will be hard to replace the job I had, but it will be easy to replace the job they were trying to give me," he wrote.

Once again, the union workers were being asked to make massive sacrifices while the company's executives voted themselves massive pay raises and bonuses. Then when the workers thought they had given up enough, the company asked for more concessions and planned to close the business when the workers balked, though the two sides have agreed to mediation in a last-ditch effort to prevent the closing.

The story is all too familiar. This kind of vulture capitalism is exactly why Mitt Romney lost the presidential election so convincingly. America is tired of these tycoons who strip businesses of all their assets and then toss the workers aside like garbage.

The bakers, drivers and salesmen who were fired had spent their lives making Hostess one of the nation's top brand names. Even as the company sold ever-increasing amounts of bread and sweets, workers were being asked to willingly give up pay and benefits. When they rejected the idea, the bosses decided to close the business.

This Bain Capital mentality is prevalent in the business world. Workers are being asked to sacrifice all the gains they have made through collective bargaining so that shareholders and executives can take every bit of profit out of the company.

America is sick and tired of this line of thinking. Profits are not as important as people. If the Republican Party insists on being the home of corporate greed, it will continue to get its ass kicked in national elections for decades to come. Even after the beating the Republicans took this year, they are still defiant, looking for a way to rebrand themselves to appear more appealing to the masses.

It won't work. We'd rather struggle with an honest champion of the working man, Barack Obama, in power than let someone like Mitt Romney control our futures. When unions were strong in demanding wage and benefits equal to the value their members contributed to this country, America thrived and built the greatest middle class the world has ever seen.

When the companies, emboldened by Ronald Reagan, history's greatest union-buster, started pushing back and demanding concessions, America started spiraling into the financial mess we live in now.

Strong unions mean a strong middle class. A strong middle class means America prospers from the top to the bottom. The top 1 percent of wage-earners would still be rich under a fairer economic system while the other 99 percent would have a level playing field and fair wages.

I don't blame the Hostess workers for choosing unemployment over massive pay cuts. It's not their fault the company will likely die; the workers kept making and distributing Hostess products just as they always have. It was the executives who ran out of assets to loot who killed the company.

The rest of us will somehow have to survive without Twinkies, Wonder Bread and Ding Dongs until the brand names are sold to other companies. The former Hostess employees will have to find jobs in a tough economy.

But I have a feeling that history is on the side of the workers. The new prosperity that Obama and the Democrats are helping America build will see the rights of workers come first. The days of Bain-style capitalism are numbered. The majority of Americans are demanding it.

My heart mourns for the fired Hostess workers. But soon, sooner than conservatives realize, workers will come and take back the country they built with their labor. The billionaires among us have every right to be scared. They should be.

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