WATERLOO, Iowa --- To the nearly 70 Hostess Brands Inc. employees and family members from Waterloo who attended a “rapid-response” meeting Tuesday at Hawkeye Community College, word that a mediator was asked to try to work out a dispute between the company and the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union probably came too late.
Irving, Texas-based Hostess and the union agreed Monday to meet with a mediator after a bankruptcy court judge noted that the parties hadn’t gone through the critical step. When the two sides couldn't come to an accord, Judge Robert Drain gave preliminary approval on Wednesday for the company execute a plan to liquidate. One possible plan, according to reports, could involve selling its 33 bakeries to another buyer, which, presumably, could operate some or all of the plants.
On the surface, that means the company, which until Friday baked Wonder Bread in Waterloo, is still breathing.
“I don’t personally think there’s much hope there that they’ll come to an agreement, with what the employees have given up before and what they’re asking for again and what the company has showed,” said Terry Scheffert, a route driver and Teamsters union member at the Waterloo plant. “They need to get somebody that’s financial, that can put money into the equipment and go forward from there.”
Scheffert, 63, said he came to Tuesday’s meeting as a first step toward finding a job that will take him to retirement.
“I’m 63 and going out and looking for work,” he said, chuckling.
Representatives from Iowa Workforce Development, as well as numerous social service agencies, met with the displaced workers to discuss unemployment insurance procedures, credit issues and available resources.
The meeting went “really good,” said Ed Wilson, 48, a production worker who had been with the local Wonder Bread plant for 26 1/2 years. “Twenty-six years of doing one job kind of makes a guy wonder what all he’s still capable of, so it was a great way to learn some options of what an old guy can still get out and do and stuff.”
Wilson said he wasn’t under immediate pressure to find another job.
“I’m one of the fortunate ones,” he said. “I’m going to do some trapping and some duck hunting. Financially, I have a little grace period. Don’t need to rush into anything. Just gonna try to get my breath and get my feet underneath me and decide, you know, construction, Target, Nestle, production work. I love the outdoors, so I’d be interested in a CDL license to drive some dump trucks and do some outdoor activities for awhile.”
Nick Fairchild, a young worker who had been with the Wonder plant only “a couple of months,” came to the meeting with his wife, Ashley, and their 6-month-old daughter, Alayna.
Fairchild, a member of the bakers union, said he had known of Hostess’ precarious situation since he took the job.
“There was talk of it since the whole time I was there,” he said. “I just kind of hoped they wouldn’t go out of business, but they ended up going out of business, obviously.”
Fairchild said he was hoping the meeting would have dealt more with a job fair.
“I’ll look for a job until I find one,” he said, adding that he had interviewed at John Deere Monday.
Kevin Olson, a 13-year employee who “ kept the tractor-trailer fleet running,” said he had little hope the company could be saved, through mediation or another avenue.
“I think they crossed the point of no return; I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said.
He said he’s not worried about having to look for work.
“I’m not to worried about finding another job in my field,” he said. “I’ve done this the last 30 years.”
What happened to Hostess came as no surprise, said Olson, a resident of Evansdale.
“I’ve known it’s going to happen for the last two years; it was bound to happen,” he said.
Another young worker who said he was counting his blessings was Arnold Paxton, 24, an 5 1/2-year employee who had been an oven operator.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to believe,” he said. “I was able to save and be prepared for something like this. I do have my own home and my car. I’m in pretty good shape.”
Paxton said he had planned for some time to join the military, and now he likely will expedite that process.
He said he was glad he came to the meeting.
“It was worth coming, just for all the information and opportunities that are available, especially for people with families,” he said.