Four local workers from the Merita Bread Bakery, right, and a Bakery Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers union member from Jacksonville Florida, with sign, cheer as a car honks their support on Tuesday as union workers formed a picket line outside the Merita Bread Bakery, a Hostess Brands production plant.

Telegram photo / Emma Tannenbaum

Four local workers from the Merita Bread Bakery, right, and a Bakery Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers union member from Jacksonville Florida, with sign, cheer as a car honks their support on Tuesday as union workers formed a picket line outside the Merita Bread Bakery, a Hostess Brands production plant.

Local Merita bread plant workers strike

By John Henderson

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Merita bread plant workers in Rocky Mount formed a picket line in front of the plant on Tuesday morning as part of a national strike by union workers protesting a reduction in wages and benefits.

On Tuesday, a truck loaded with sugar that was headed to the plant was parked in the turning lane in the middle of Church Street outside of the plant, as the driver balked at crossing the picket line that had formed outside of the plant.

The workers picketing outside the plant, who did not want to be identified by name, said they were protesting an eight percent reduction in wages and cuts to pension benefits, an increase in their contribution to health insurance benefits and recent bonuses given by the company to high-ranking company officials who ended up leaving after being paid.

Several union workers from Jacksonville, Fla., joined the picket line to show their support.

Calls to the company were referred to the plant manager, who could not be reached for comment on Tuesday morning.

In May, the parent company of the Merita Bread Bakery plant in Rocky Mount filed notice with local and state officials indicating that it might shut down the plant and lay off its 286 employees in the next couple of months.

Hostess, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization earlier this year, operates a Merita Bread Bakery plant through its Interstate Brands Corp.

The notices the company sent out were required under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which went into effect in the late 1980s and helps ensure advance notice in cases of plant closings and mass layoffs.

The letter, dated May 4 and sent to the governor’s office, Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs and Nash County Board of Commissioners Chairman Billy Morgan, states that it is possible that the Hostess board of directors could authorize a sale of all or a substantial portion of all of the company’s assets. The letter states it is possible that the board might seek court authorization to stop pursuing a restructuring of the business.

The letter also stated that it is also possible Hostess receives an unsatisfactory resolution of its pending motion before the bankruptcy court regarding certain modifications to its collective bargaining agreements with unions, or that there is a strike, walkout, lockout, slowdown or other work stoppage that is likely to have “a material adverse effect on Hostess.”

The plant was still in operation as of Tuesday morning.

According to a story in the Washington Post published on Monday, three days of labor strikes have prompted Hostess Brands Inc. to close three plants and mull a possible liquidation of the beleaguered baking company.

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